By Andrew Pillow
It is the nature of my job to entertain both sides of an argument. If I’m writing about a polarizing subject like universal healthcare, I have to write about the pros and cons of the government paying for health care. If I am writing about a political candidate, I have to give the reader the arguments for and against the candidate’s platform. I typically create a graphic organizer to help me group my thoughts in this way.
I sat down to write a school choice post. I began to jot down all the arguments for and against school choice and I came to a realization: There are no good arguments against school choice.
I know this is a pretty big claim to make, and I don’t make it lightly but it’s the honest truth. The reasons given to oppose school choice simply do not hold up to any type of serious scrutiny.
Sure, there are tons of reasons that school choice opponents cite, but all of these reasons fall into four categories.
- arguments against a certain school
- issues you could raise about any public schools
- funding issues
Let’s examine these categories more closely:
Arguments against a certain school
When you ask people to tell you why they are against school choice, 90% of them launch into a rant about a very specific charter school or some other anecdotal experience. While these experiences are valid, they should not be used as indictments against the school choice system as a whole because the idea of having options doesn’t preclude some of those options being bad… hence why it’s important to have options.
I work in a pretty good charter school. I work down the street from what is considered a pretty bad one. I’ve worked in one that kicked out too many students, and one that suspends less kids than the surrounding area. If someone has a problem with a specific school, they should feel free to choose another. That’s kind of the idea.
Issues you could raise about any public schools
A very popular tactic of school choice opponents is to drag up the near inexhaustible reservoir of problems facing inner-city schools and postulate that those obstacles are specific to only charter schools. You will see this tactic used in conjunction with poor performance, school discipline, and now even segregation.
Some charter schools may suffer from those problems, but they are not unique to charter schools. Traditional public schools are not only not immune from these problems, but in many cases, they created them.
Charter schools were a response to the poor academic performance of traditional public options and many charters still outperform traditional public schools today.
School segregation was quite literally invented by the traditional public-school system, and though many would have you believe they left it behind in the 60s, segregation of public schools is coming back. In fact, in some places, it never left.
So, if these critiques are valid against traditional public schools, why have they become hallmarks of anti-school choice rhetoric?
Traditional public-school advocates often cite funding problems as the main reason they are against school choice. They say vouchers and charter schools take money away from public schools.
Most districts award money by headcount. So yes, if a student opts out of attending a traditional public school they no longer receive that money. That’s not taking money away. The public school is not entitled to money for a child they don’t teach. If that’s considered a problem then inner-city districts should turn their ire to the suburbs because they have been hemorrhaging students, and funding to the suburban districts in the form of white flight for years.
There are real problems left behind for under-enrolled schools in the inner city. School districts should do something about it too. Maybe it’s providing the money for infrastructure separately from the money for academics since the biggest problem for under-enrolled schools is building up-keep. Either way that’s a funding issue that could be fixed if the political will was there, but politicians would rather use funding problems as a weapon than fix the issue.
This is pretty self-explanatory. There are a number of lies floating around in regards to school choice especially on the local level.
Whether it’s framing charter schools as private schools when in fact they are public or continuing to tell people that all charter schools are for-profit when many of them are run by non-profits. There are too many lies to tackle here, but they are out there. If you are in the conversation, you’ve heard them.
I don’t know when the conversation about school choice will become less toxic, but for now, it’s important to stay diligent and keep school choice opponents honest.