Jan 19, 2017
ELW

Phyllis Schlafly & Cato Long Understood Dangers of “Choice”

School choice is becoming a very hot topic in education circles with the likely ascendancy of Betsy DeVos to the position of Secretary of Education in the new Trump administration.  Because so many are pursuing the noble goal of trying to help poor children escape from failing public schools, they are not or will not see the dangers of these programs to private and even home school autonomy.

Education Liberty Watch has been trying to warn of these dangers for several years and is honored to be working beside tremendous organizations like Eagle Forum and the Cato Institute to raise this alarm.

Eagle Forum just published an article by ELW President Dr. Karen Effrem discussing this work. Here is an excerpt:

In 2012, we published the School Choice Freedom Grading Scale. States like New Hampshire and Georgia that had accountability directly to parents scored A+ grades while states like Indiana and Louisiana that imposed the state standardized tests on entire private schools received failing grades.

The ever brilliant education analyst and conservative icon Phyllis Schlafly instantly understood the dangers of both Common Core and these alleged school choice plans to private school autonomy. Shortly after having the honor of presenting our Grading Scale at her wonderful 2012 Eagle Council meeting, she wrote these insightful words in her weekly column, titled Like ObamaCare, Obama Core Is Another Power Grab:

The Obama Core advocates are even planning to impose their standards on private schools. As the school choice movement grows, the attempt will be made to force any private or charter school that accepts public funds to adopt Common Core standards and have their students take the national tests. (Emphasis added).

President-elect Donald Trump’s appointee to become the next Secretary of Education, Betsy DeVos, is undergoing her confirmation hearings starting on January 17th. Despite protestations to the contrary, the Michigan billionaire has a long history of supporting Common Core and other education debacles like social emotional learning (SEL), data mining, and charter schools that only teach and test the Common Core.

As pointed out in our list of questions that the U.S. Senate should ask DeVos, she is a strong proponent of both voucher programs and Title I portability. The Indiana voucher law that she and her organization, the American Federation for Children (AFC), strongly supported and funded requires voucher recipient schools to administer the public school Common Core-aligned tests  and submit to the grading system based on those same Common Core-aligned tests.  The tests determine what is taught, which means that this law is imposing Common Core on private schools. Indiana “is the second-worst in the country on infringing on private school autonomy” according to the Center for Education Reform because of that and other onerous requirements, and the state received an F grade on our Grading Scale. It is also important that she be asked if as Secretary of Education, if she would require the same public school, Common Core tests and the rest of the federal regulations for private schools under a Title I portability program as her close friend  and colleague Jeb Bush recommended for Mitt Romney in 2012 (p. 24).

Jason Bedrick of the Cato Institute raised similar concerns in 2014 after Michael Petrilli of the Gates-funded, pro-Common Core Thomas B. Fordham Institute put out a policy “toolkit” demanding that Common Core tests be imposed on any educational entity receiving tax dollars. Bedrick responded well by saying:

By contrast, there is a significant body of evidence that school choice programs work without Fordham’s sought-after government regulation. Of twelve randomized controlled trials—the gold standard of social science research—eleven found that school choice programs improve outcomes for some or all students while only one found no statistically significant difference and none found a negative impact. None of these school choice programs studied were designed along the lines of the Fordham proposal.

In fact, Fordham’s preferred policy is undermined by a large body of evidence. A 2009 literature review of the within-country studies comparing outcomes among different types of school systems worldwide revealed that the most market-like and least regulated education systems tended to produce student outcomes superior to more heavily regulated systems, including those with a substantial number state-funded and regulated private schools. In short, the best form of accountability is directly to parents, not government bureaucrats and their tests.

Accountability Should Be To Parents

Fordham argues that school choice programs, including both vouchers and scholarship tax credits, should fall under the same accountability regimes as public schools because they utilize public funds. In Fordham’s words, “The taxpayer also needs assurances that schools are producing solid learning results for the children who participate in such programs.” This reasoning should not apply to scholarship tax credits which, as the U.S. Supreme Court held in ACSTOv. Winn, do not involve public funds at all:

Like contributions that lead to charitable tax deductions, contributions yielding [scholarship] tax credits are not owed to the State and, in fact, pass directly from taxpayers to private organizations. Respondents’ contrary position assumes that income should be treated as if it were government property even if it has not come into the tax collector’s hands. That premise finds no basis in standing jurisprudence. Private bank accounts cannot be equated with the … State Treasury.

If private schools are to be maintained as any reasonable alternative to public schools, their already adequate methods of accountability via nationally norm-referenced tests and to parents that pay the tuition should be maintained or no public money should go to private schools at all.

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