By September 11, 2016 Uncategorized 2 Comments

I’ve been gone for a few weeks from the blogging scene. Some of my more regular readers no doubt noticed but did not hassle me about it.

Thank you for that.

For a variety of reasons, both personal and professional, I felt the need to temporarily refocus my time and energies.

My brain also needed a brief break from the vitriol, rancor, hyperbole, and insanity that is this year’s election cycle. Like many of you, I have never been so anxious to have an election be over and done with.

While I have been unplugged to a large degree, I have still been lurking in the shadows of social media; watching, listening, and contemplating.

All that to say I am ready to get back in the game.

The inspiration for this morning’s post came from a likely source, Senator Kyle Loveless (R-Dist 45), when he posted the following Facebook post:

“ESAs are the Uber of Education.” Really?!

While I can agree that Uber has transformed the concept of public transportation, I am unable to grasp why Senator Loveless believes Uber is a model worth replicating for public education.

Several of my adult children use Uber and have spoken positively about Uber’s lower cost and ease of use. Uber seems to have developed a creative approach to meeting our society’s high demand for speedy and reliable transportation, particularly in urban centers.

But using Uber as a metaphor for school choice is overly simplistic and inaccurate.

In case you have forgotten, ESAs are shorthand for Education Savings Accounts, which are shorthand for vouchers, which are shorthand for distributing public money to mostly wealthy white people to help offset the cost of private school tuition.

ESAs – under the guise of parent choice are also the vehicle by which a small, but influential group of people hope to reestablish a Neo-Plessian, separate but equal, education for America’s children.

I may be naïve, but I don’t believe that most reformers, Loveless included, want to resegregate our schools in such a disgusting matter. I don’t believe they intend to inflict more divisiveness on society. But, it is precisely what will happen.

I suspect that people like Senator Loveless just like to impose their opinions on systems without having a clue about the way that they function. In this case, they haven’t taken the time or effort to truly study the issue of school vouchers and fully grasp the potential negative implications for our neediest children.

A few questions for Senator Loveless:

  1. Uber currently allows drivers and passengers to rate each other on a 5 star system at the conclusion of each trip. Would public schools use this model to rate our students and parents? Could we take off points for being late, wasting our time, being too talkative, acting obnoxiously, not complying with rules, or giving us a headache? More importantly, if a student or parent earned too many low ratings, can we refuse to serve them?
  2. Will these new Uber-based schools be able to avoid predominantly minority, low-income, or high cime neighborhoods like current Uber drivers do? Even if this is not done intentionally, the technology gap often leaves low income communities behind due to lack of access and resources.  Not everyone can afford a smartphone, a data plan, and a credit card for a Uber ride. Likewise, not every parent can afford the extra tuition for their child to attend a private school or provide the transportation to get them there. This is just one subtle way that racism could manifest itself with vouchers.
  3. Black students are often doubly segregated, first by race, then by achievement. In schools, students with higher achievement tend to come from homes with more resources, and more ability to take advantage of their choices.  How would we ensure ESAs were provided equally for children of poor or dysfunctional homes?
  4. Could schools refuse to serve students with disabilities and just leave them at the curb, like some Uber drivers have done. Who would make sure this didn’t happen with private schools since they are not accountable to the same federal guidelines as public schools?
  5. The effect of sorting on school climate is huge. Since the biggest predictor of whether a school is safe and orderly is students’ academic achievement, what happens when higher achieving students take advantage of ESAs or move to charters? What happens to children left behind in under-resourced, more disorderly schools with less qualified teachers?

Senator Loveless, this is how school choice works in the real world.

  • Choice favors the already privileged parents, who use their vouchers to select schools populated with children who think, look and behave like their own.
  • Like Uber, the schools who accept these vouchers can pick and choose who they allow in their school. By accepting only students with positive academic and behaviors, the school’s test scores stay high.
  • Successful schools are thus relieved of mandates, given more autonomy along with the ability to develop holistic and engaging lessons for students.
  • On the other hand,  under-performing schools are micromanaged and often forced to use soul-killing scripted teach-to-the-test instruction. That creates a downward cycle where basic skills instruction, test prep, and worksheet-driven teaching are demanded in a desperate attempt to jack up test scores. But that educational malpractice drives down student performance, inviting even more repressive micromanaging. This further undermines the schools’ learning cultures, drives out top teachers and higher-achieving students, and encourages more troubled children to act out through violence and self-destructive or disruptive behavior.

Finally, if Uber is the new model for how competitiveness can improve efficiency and quality of public services, why not adopt the model for other government services?

Why not allow Oklahomans to receive a police and fire voucher to use rather than relying on the existing monopolies?

If I have a small fire at my home, I can use my voucher to put the fire out myself or use my smartphone app to request a “bucket brigade” and pay with my voucher card. Come to think of it, I don’t plan on ever having a fire at my home, so why should I pay for other people’s accidents?

If someone robs my house, I can just gather up a group of community vigilantes to solve the crime and prosecute the vandals myself. Imagine the money we could save in police officers, police cars or equipment, and associated court costs. It could be so efficient and would also relieve the stress on our main police stations so they can work with the more crime-ridden communities. It’s a win-win.

Imagine. We could have Uber cops like this in all our neighborhoods:

On second thought, this is Oklahoma. This is probably a more accurate picture of what our Uber cops might look like.

I think you will agree that this could be a uber catastrophe for our communities. So would ESAs.

Schools are not just someone with a driver’s license picking up a little extra cash. And students are not simply passengers looking for a quick, efficient ride to save a few bucks.

Public schools are the foundation of our society and represent the future of our nation.

Until our legislators figure out a way to adequately fund the schools we already have, they have no business looking for ways to siphon away funds and further handicap our mission to provide a quality education for EVERY child.

Senator Loveless, we don’t need any more uberly bad ideas like this.

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