No choice for the wealthy

Actor Matt Damon, who opposes school choice for low-income students, has chosen to send his children to private school in Los Angeles, where he’s just moved, notes Andrew Rotherham in TIME, who calls the actor a “hypocrite.” The son of a teacher turned education professor, Damon has campaigned against education reform and in favor of public education. But he says there are no progressive public schools in Los Angeles, so “we don’t have a choice.”

Los Angeles has many charter schools and traditional public schools in demand by parents, responds Rotherham. Superintendent John Deasy offered to help Damon “tour a number of schools so he can have choices from our amazing portfolio of schools.”

 In addition to the traditional and charter schools in the LA system there are Mandarin immersion schools, magnets with different focuses, and even schools that focus on activism. If none of those schools turn out to work for the Damons that’s still a powerful argument for the ideas he works against publicly: Letting parents and teachers come together to create new public schools that meet the diverse needs of students. That’s precisely the idea behind public charter schools, an idea derided at the rallies where Damon is celebrated.

“Los Angeles now has a number of charter schools that are propelling first-in-family students into and through college,” writes Rotherham. That increases social mobility and reduces inequality. “If that’s not progressive enough, then what is?”

Wealthy parents can afford to live in an area with excellent public schools. That’s the most common choice for those who value public education.

Damon’s new movie, Elysium, is about a future dystopia were the uber-wealthy live in an edenic space station — with great medical care — while the 99.9 percent suffer on a polluted Earth.

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  1. He’s not a hypocrite, though, because he *says* the right things. That’s also why the teachers unions showered money on Clinton and Obama even though *they* sent/send their kids to private schools.

  2. To progressives, “progressive” is more a feeling than an idea or a concept or a movement with a distinct history.

  3. Ann in L.A. says:

    I think the “no choice” comment is in part because of the security and privacy of his kids. There are a number of private schools around here where paparazzi have no ability to photograph onto the campus. It still doesn’t keep them completely at bay. I’ve seen helicopter shots of A-listers’ kids playing sports at their school. I’ve also seen an a-lister completely surrounded by a pack of hyenas–I mean cameramen–while walking with their kids down at a mall. It is no way to live or to raise kids. The fact that many articles about this story include pictures of his kids is an illustration of the problem.

    If he wants his kids out of sight, there are no public options.

    • Ann: The paparazzi is a good point if he wants his kids out of the limelight; it’s probably a good call. HOWEVER, he said “the schools aren’t progressive enough”, he didn’t come out and say, LAUSD can’t guarantee my kids won’t be hounded and chased by paparazzi.

      IMO, he chose to frame the debate in the wrong terms. Given past relations of stars with paparazzi, people would have probably been OK with him wanting to shelter them and their classmates from the insanity.

      • Foobarista says:

        It’s all about the ego. If he says he can’t secure his kids at a public school, he ruins his (self-imagined) “ordinary guy” cred. But if he says they aren’t “progressive enough”, he’s Making a Statement – by sending his kids to a private school with fellow zillionaires and their security details.

  4. Elizabeth says:

    LA is composed of numerous districts pretty much segregated along socioeconomic lines. His kids would not be attending LA Unified – they would attend Beverly Hills, which is a highly rated district. Much of the district is composed of the children of wealthy business people/doctors, etc. These folks demand, and get, a really rigorous, tough education. Perhaps too tough for some kids. The celeb kids like Paris Hilton go to the “dummy” preps. Matt’s kids may not be the sharpest tools in the shed.

    • Cranberry says:

      His stepdaughter is 15.

      His other three children are 7, 5 and 3. It’s mean and rude to deem children you’ve never met “not the sharpest tools in the shed.”

      • Elizabeth says:

        Well, I’m sorry – I should have said, all of the little darlings are special and equal, yadda yadda. I was actually defending the public schools. But I have relatives whose kids attend BH schools and they are not for the underperforming student. Franky, I thought “progressive” was code for reading Pat The Bunny in senior lit.

  5. Ann In L.A. says:

    I remain curious about which schools here he deems progressive enough for his kids. I can think of a couple of possibilities.

  6. Cranberry says:

    The word, progressive, has different meanings in different contexts, as I’m sure everyone reading this post, and Andrew Rotherham, know. Progressive in politics is not the same as progressive in education, although many wealthy liberal families love progressive schools.

    A progressive school usually educates “the whole child,” through project-based and hands-on learning. Grades may not be given. The faculty have the freedom to experiment with curriculum; students frequently share that freedom. There’s a lot of talk about student responsibility to learn.

    However good public schools in LA may be, all the students must take the NCLB state tests. Thus, teachers do not have curricular freedom. There isn’t the time in the schedule to do things such as whole-school trips to Africa, nor to spend a week writing, directing, and filming a play about an ethical dimension of a current issue (and so on.)

    Matt Damon attended a progressive public school, according to Wikipedia. He knows whereof he speaks. He’s using the term accurately, unlike those who call him a hypocrite.

    His definition of a “good school” isn’t a Silicon Valley engineer’s definition of a “good school,” nor is it an education reformer’s definition of a “good school.” That’s o.k. That’s what real parental choice in education would support. However, at present, “choice” in public schooling resembles the old joke about early Ford cars: you can have any color you’d like, as long as it’s black.

    • Elizabeth says:

      So basics such as reading comprehension, grammar, and mathematics achievement at a minimum level is too constrictive? One would think that x number of years schooling should equate to mastery of a body of knowledge. Again, it smacks of fingerpainting for credit.

      • Cranberry says:

        Your comments betray your ignorance of the topic.

        The University of Chicago Laboratory Schools are schools in the progressive tradition.

        Obviously, I’ve had children in progressive schools. I’ve also had children in public schools. The progressive school my children attended has a curriculum a year or two ahead of the public school curriculum. Its students write more essays than the public school students. The math is taught at a higher level. The students have more homework. The school does check student achievement through the CTP test. Unlike the NCLB testing, though, that testing amounts to a day or two–not weeks.

        This is possible because the school has enough applicants to choose its student body. I’m sure the school Matt Damon’s children will attend will also practice selective admissions.

        And be honest–no matter what school his children attend, everyone will assume they aren’t that bright, and that they got in because of their father. If they test well, people will assume it’s due to tutoring.

        Now, consider how you’d feel if your children could only attend a progressive school. No traditional schools or state mandated standardized testing allowed! You, too, might look for other options, if you could afford it. You might even homeschool.

        • Elizabeth says:

          This still does not define “progressive”. My dd attends a religious based private HS that is much ahead in terms of student achievement compared with the city pubilc closet to us and offers many interesting extracurriculars but is comparable to a really good suburban HS.But it is not an expensive school. To replicate some of those specialty private schools with tuition up and over $30K/year (supplemented of course by endowments) – you can imagine the cost when you consider most large SDs administrative structures – it would not be possible to finance.

  7. OT:  the Twitter storm is not connected to the rest of the discussion here, and the 140-character limit leaves no room for the thoughtful sorts of comments which have been the highlight at JJ.

    It’s time to disconnect from Twitter.  Let people send links all they want, but go through the regular comment system and be part of the threads if they want to say something.

  8. I read Damon’s use of “progressive” in much the same way as cranberry above. Having just last year moved kids from a somewhat progressive school district in the east to a high-performing district serving wealthy families in California, I think Damon is spot on. In particular, it’s not a good move for a 15 year old! I regret having done that to my teen.

    • Elizabeth says:

      I believe that the main issue was moving a 15-year old away from what he/she was accustomed to – especially such culturally different areas. That being said, I fail to see why a child cannot persue his/her own interests outside of the barely 6 hour school day. Education is mainly the responsibility of the parent, with the child second (with more onus on the child as he/she gets older). I think that too many parents look to others to offload their responsibilities. I do not want the schools to raise my offspring – rather I want a safe environment with good teacher who teach for mastery of a certain defined body of knowledge. They take care of those basics, I can take care of the rest.

      • Mark Roulo says:

        “That being said, I fail to see why a child cannot persue his/her own interests outside of the barely 6 hour school day.”


        Because in high school it is more than a six hour day. My local public high school runs from 8:10 in the morning to 3:30 in the afternoon (with 55 minutes of that time spent on lunch and recess/break). A neighbor has a child at this school and she runs 2 1/2 to 3 hours per day of homework, plus 4 or 5 hours on the weekend.


        So it isn’t 6 hours/day … the school has the kids for almost 8 hours and homework consumes an additional 2-3 per day. So … closer to 10 to 11 hours/day.

  9. PhillipMarlowe says:

    “Dr.” Deasy is not one to be trusted to tell the truth.
    He lied to Rick Hess for his book on “cage bustin'” leadership.