Hillary: Want a good school? Move

Hillary Clinton’s campaign announcement video features multi-ethnic, straight and gay Americans starting new things. “My daughter is starting kindergarten next year, and so we’re moving, just so she can belong to a better school,” says a woman.

Hamlet and Olesia Garcia were charged with education fraud for enrolling their daughter in a neighboring district.

Hamlet and Olesia Garcia were convicted of education fraud for enrolling their daughter in a neighboring district near Philadelphia.

It’s nice she and her mate can afford to buy a house in a good school district, but what about all the ordinary Americans stuck with a so-so neighborhood school? Dropout Nation’s Rishawn Biddle calls this “zip code education.” Good public schools are free for those who can make a big enough mortgage payment.

Is the video a calculated nod to charter-hating teachers’ unions, a sign Clinton will reverse Obama’s education reform agenda? Or, as Jonathan Chait suspects, is moving for a better school a middle-class reality that Clinton’s advisors never thought to question?

It’s odd to see neighborhood-based education defined as liberal writes Chait in New York magazine.

Hoping to push Clinton to the left, the Nation posed 15 questions it wants the candidate to answer, notes Chait. Anti-reformer Diane Ravitch asked: “Secretary Clinton, would you please state where you stand on the expansion of privately managed charter schools, which drain funding from public schools that accept all children.”

Charters have to accept all applicants, holding a lottery if too many apply, writes Chait. Traditional public schools “accept all children whose parents can afford the property fee.”

In my city, like many cities, the most desirable neighborhood schools are located in expensive neighborhoods. . . One of the things you pay for when you buy an expensive home is the right to live in a school district where most of the children will come from highly educated two-parent families. Schools that are tied to residential property patterns will inevitably reflect the racially and socioeconomically segregated pattern of American housing.

Turning “public education into an adjunct of private property rights” is “a very strange value system for the left to embrace,” concludes Chait.

Another liberal, Kevin Chavous of American Federation for Children wants Clinton to support school choice.

Union spin: Don’t say ‘equity,’ ‘reform’ or ‘rich’

Don’t say “education reform,” advises talking points developed for National Education Association leaders. It’s OK to refer to “education improvement or “education excellence.” 

“Providing basic skills and information” is out, according to the PR memo.  “Inspire curiosity, imagination and desire to learn” is in.

It’s Orwellian doublespeak, writes RiShawn Biddle on Dropout Nation. But replacing “inequality” with “living in the right zip code” highlights the fact that “Zip Code Education” keeps lower-income students out of high-quality schools.

NEA leaders will then have to explain why their affiliates, along with that of AFT,  fight . . . against the expansion of public charter schools and other forms of choice that have proven to improve graduation rates for black and Latino children.

. . . (Teachers’ unions) work together with traditional districts to oppose any overall of school finance systems that will lead to dollars following children out of failure mills and warehouses of mediocrity to any high-quality school, public, private or charter, that provides them with teaching and curricula they need.

 Conor Williams also sees the irony in complaining about zip codes while opposing choice and charters. The NEA doesn’t want to talk about “equity,” he notes.

. . . black and Latino children are more than four times as likely to attend high-poverty urban schools than their white peers. . . . Yet the NEA recommends that members instead talk about being “committed to the success of every child.”

Should we use “research driven practices” and “measure what matters” using “meaningful, rigorous evaluations?” No—apparently we should “get serious about what works,” because “love of learning can’t be measured,” and “testing takes time from learning.”

Schools are not supposed to be “effective learning environments” in the fuzzy new world. Schools are “where childhood happens.”

If that’s not completely meaningless, it’s wrong. Childhood happens at home, in the playground, where ever kids happen to be. Schools claim to be places where children learn important skills, knowledge and habits. If they’re just “where childhood happens,” we could save a lot of money.

Romney education plan is radical

“Emphasizing high-stakes tests and charter school expansion, Obama has simply continued — or accelerated — the policies handed down by George W. Bush in his signature education reform, No Child Left Behind,” writes education historian Jonathan Zimmerman in the Los Angeles Times. By contrast, Mitt  Romney’s education plan is revolutionary, writes Zimmerman.

Romney has put forth a plan that could completely transform the way Americans organize and fund public schools. And that’s why it has little chance of being implemented any time soon.

Romney proposes letting poor and disabled students use federal funds to enroll in new schools — private schools or out-of-district public schools.

. . . forget all our effusive rhetoric about education as the great equalizer, the ticket out of poverty and so on. American education is profoundly unequal because it is still circumscribed by local district lines — and still financed, mostly, by local tax dollars.

While President Obama’s education policies “don’t change the bottom line,” Romney “has suggested that kids in a poor public school district should be allowed to enroll in a wealthier one.” That’s a huge change in the status quo.

Romney “hasn’t provided any real details,” Zimmerman writes. And don’t hold your breath waiting for upper-middle-class suburbanites to welcome low-income students.

 Yet the plan does remind us of the radical potential of school vouchers, which are today blithely dismissed by liberals as a right-wing plot to gut public education. But vouchers once drew significant support from the left too, including from such luminaries as Harvard sociologist Christopher Jencks and urban muckraker Jonathan Kozol.

To Jencks, who crafted a 1970 report on the subject for Richard Nixon’s White House, vouchers could help equalize American education if public as well as private schools were required to admit a certain fraction of low-income students. And the vouchers would have to be distributed progressively, with the poorest kids getting the biggest tuition assistance.

I don’t see Mitt Romney as a wild and crazy guy. If elected, I don’t think he’ll challenge local control of schools. If he did try to push through a radical voucher plan, he’d face a lot of opposition from suburban Republicans, though he might get support from urban Democrats. I’m not betting the farm on this one.