Thursday, April 4

Dirt Is Trumps

For the individual termite, the greatest freedom is the termitary. 

--Thomas Huxley

FAR be it from me to ignore a summons from on High. Ed Kilgore takes on this Michael Gerson bit of April flummery. I had seen it. I look in on Fred Hiatt's Home for Pathological Liars every day, God help me. It's true, it's always summer there, and the fish are jumpin', but some days I'd rather pass. I suppose that even the Suquamish got tired of salmon every now and then.

So, for starters:
Though Gerson cannot bring himself to use the words “charter schools” or “public school choice,” he does allude elliptically to “limited choice” options in education, which are bad because they don’t directly take on the satanic forces of education unions and bureaucrats. The other word he doesn’t use is accountability, once the favorite word of conservatives when it came to education policy, but now a complete no-no. Accountability to the public for the use of public funds, the very definition (along with full and equal access) of what makes a public school “public,” would exclude vouchers that just shuffle taxpayer subsidies to private schools to keep on doing what they do, whether it’s good education or bad, or evangelical madrassa-style instruction in the evils of science and secularism—not to mention public schools.

In the education biz we call that "Tuesday".
Gerson’s too smart not to know that he is deliberately telescoping the education policy debate and in the name of his own definition of “choice” creating a false choice between backpack vouchers with zero accountability for results (other than to parents, sometimes under the divinely-appointed servant-leadership of Father Frank or Pastor Bob) and the worst stereotypes of old-style public schools with poor funding bases in the most troubled neighborhoods. What really infuriates me, though, is to see conservatives who fought so long for high-stakes testing and educational quality measurement throw it all away at the very moment America is about to undertake the most sweeping accountability reforms in history, the “common core standards” initiative, just so they can get taxpayer subsidies for religious schools, and/or strike a mindless blow against teachers unions.

Let's note, here, that one may be as disingenuous as a cuckoo and still make an intelligent argument; it is, after all, the cuckoo's uncanny ability to mimic the eggs of the nest it invades that closes the sale. But Gerson's used to hoodwinking a different sort of birdbrain.

I honestly do not know whether he's "too smart" not to realize he's being disingenuous. I haven't seen any evidence of this mattering in right-wing circles since before Gerson was born. If he recognized disingenuity as something to be avoided, for intellectual or ethical reasons, he wouldn't have the career arc he's had. Th' fuck is anyone still being nice about this? Taking the disingenuousness out of Michael Gerson would be like taking the air out of a marshmallow. Intelligence has nothing to do with it.

Good Lord, there's never been any intention of holding charter or private schools "accountable". We've known that since at least the second time Neil Bush avoided prison time, haven't we? Is there some way these liars could be more transparent?  We've seen it in action. Charters and vouchers were the panacea for "failing" public schools, right up until the time they were enacted. Now it's "Hey, they're no worse."

Alternately, if you're Gerson, you can quote the American Enterprise Institute, or link a study none of your readers can see without a subscription, in which nine "leading educational researchers" note the "modest improvements in reading or math scores, or both."  Be careful not to mention all nine are proponents of school "choice". If there was unequivocal evidence that charters were superior, and vouchers improved education, these bastids would be screaming it from every church steeple. Hell, if there was equivocal evidence they'd be producing it, instead of the learned opinions of learned mouthpieces and cherry-picked "trends".
In the case of children in failing public schools, this argument gains moral urgency. Choice may not be a system-wide panacea. But it remains a disturbing spectacle when teachers unions count as a legal “victory” when disadvantaged children are returned to troubled, unsafe institutions.

That's not disingenuity. That's Who Lost China, sixty years on.

Let us speak of Indiana, if we must. The Supreme Court decision was about as suspenseful as a last minute stay of execution request in Texas a week before an election.

This has all played out against the increasingly obvious backdrop of  money buying legislation. Over the past twenty years Indiana ended its prohibition on exclusive beer distributorships, causing beer prices to skyrocket, ended the prohibition against fireworks, then ended the freedom-killing prohibition against fireworks powerful enough to kill small children and medium-sized pets, gave out-of-state big box stores the right to drive local liquor stores out of business, prevented out-of-state liquor distributors from competing with the in-state distributors' lobbyists, and did just about everything the gun lobby asked without waiting for it to ask. Almost all of the measures involved got voted down or tabled in the first year, and returned (Freedom!) after the concern over campaign coffers had eased some.

The Charter school industry was savvy enough to bypass the General Assembly and get itself a governor, the previous one, and his henchsuperintendent. Hell, they didn't even have to hide it; Tony Bennett's wife was on the payroll when he was elected, and she stayed there for months after. The legislature did Daniels' bidding, because, hey, genius. So legislation was written targeting the two large urban districts (Indianapolis Segregated Schools, and the Gary Human Disaster of Capitalist Rapine District) for takeover by people who know nothing about education, a few things about letting employees know their place, and a lot about itchy palms.

The mayor of Indianapolis has had to power to create his own charter schools for almost a decade now. Where are the results? Well, we made miraculous claims the first year in, but that was when voters still remembered what sort of promises had led to their tax dollars going to private enterprises. Since then the claims have been relegated to "amorphous". The mayor makes a point, every year or two, of canceling the charter of one or two "underperformers", which doesn't accomplish anything, but is, at least, easier than accomplishing anything. Our young people have never been more educated. Really, sometimes I imagine I'm in Paris between the Wars.

Public schools in Gary and Indianapolis have been turned over to roving privateers, who now get more access to taxpayer bucks to expand their markets. Expect to hear little of test scores, and a lot more about the plight of the disadvantaged and educationally disabled in coming years. (This has already happened, in fact; one of the two syndicates which took over some of Indianapolis' Failing Schools, and immediately ran into trouble, replied that it had had "no idea" things were so awful in the schools whose Failure it had been promoting for years previous.)

Vouchers? Bullshit. The Indiana Supreme Court already knew that the program was sending taxpayer dollars to schools which were teaching that Adam and Eve were white Europeans who rode dinosaurs. No appeal to Everson v. Board of Education makes that Constitutional. No argument about public good entitles active breeders to everyone else's money.

And no fucking phony statistics will make it work.
more than half a million low- and middle-income Hoosier students — and about 62 percent of all families — are eligible for state aid to help pay for a private or religious school.

Eligible! Yes, and you're all up for a Peabody, into the bargain. And a Lotto Jackpot. And Michael Gerson can start making space for that Pulitzer.

If you think 62% of Hoosier families are gonna get themselves a fat state check, you're due for a little remedial math. If you think that families below the poverty line are gonna suddenly be sending their droopy-pantsed progeny to white suburban academies, there to flourish under proper care, you're hallucinating. If you've got a child with severe disabilities, you probably already know how your luck's gonna run.  But congratulations! You're now eligible, thanks to the same people who want to keep you out of the healthcare system.

School reform is the War on (Some) Drugs. It's targeted the poor and minorities, and the Democratic party which was supposed to the beneficiary of its voting blocs. It preceded from upper class distain (paging Mrs. Reagan), announced its rhetorical victory a priori, convinced people with specious arguments which were never challenged until long after the fact, and helped itself to piles of public money. Results? Accountability? I believe you already have that answer.


Anonymous said...

I also want to know what will happen to all of the Indiana public school corporations between being knee capped with vouchers AND the 1% property tax cap. At least in my mind, I see some really huge budgetary problems in the future but maybe that was always the plan.

Unknown said...

"Charters and vouchers were the panacea for "failing" public schools, right up until the time they were enacted. Now it's "Hey, they're no worse."

This is the trajectory of every conservative idea of the past 30 years. Remember when cutting taxes for rich people was going to eliminate unemployment AND leave the government with MORE money for those programs we bleeding heart liberals want?

I sure as hell do.

ifthethunderdontgetya™³²®© said...

Good Lord, there's never been any intention of holding charter or private schools "accountable". We've known that since at least the second time Neil Bush avoided prison time, haven't we? Is there some way these liars could be more transparent? We've seen it in action. Charters and vouchers were the panacea for "failing" public schools, right up until the time they were enacted.

Very good. But when will you take the next step, Doghouse?

You do realize who Obama picked as his Secretary of Education, don't you?

"Privatize the profits, socialize the costs."

Robert M. said...

@Rick Massimo: Damn straight. It's one of my favorite little bait-and-switch routines, and I've lost count of how many times I've seen it deployed in conversations about deregulation and privatization.

The early claim is that it the policy of choice will make things better--you'll get better products and services at a lower cost if you simply run X "like a business" and/or remove the chains of excessive regulation from the Free Market. Then, once the policy is implemented and early evaluations are mixed, the claim changes to "the evidence isn't all in".

Finally, once the policy has been in place for a few years, it turns out that private companies are behaving exactly the way private companies behave--that is, they're wringing out every nickel they can find, and as a result delivering worse services at a higher price--the claim changes again to "it's hard to prove things are worse than they were before, and besides, it wasn't implemented perfectly because there are still too many regulations/not enough competition/too many disadvantaged students for the model to work properly."

Conservatism can never fail; it can only be failed. If it appears that conservative policies are wrecking everything they touch, it's because those policies aren't mature and/or aren't actually conservative enough, because if they were really conservative they'd be working.

Anonymous said...

Hey did you see that our legislature in all of its infinite wisdom (ha, ha, ha) plans to waive the requirement for proper licensing and education for Indiana superintendents? Why don't we waive it for doctors, dentists, CPAs and what the hell, pilots too? Riley, you must be worn out following the General Assembly because every day you read/view/whatever the news you discover that you had more common sense in second grade. Okay, as a three year old!

Weird Dave said...

So does Ms. Rhee bat left and throw right?

Anonymous said...

weird dave:

i preferred the catcher. i hope our host plans a rotating cast of sideshow players

jim, in iowa