TNSC would like to respond to questions and concerns expressed by Dr. Claire Smrekar, Associate Professor of Public Policy and Education at Vanderbilt University, in a commentary posted on the Score Sheet titled “Why Imperatives Matter: Choice & Democratic Schooling.” It is available to read in full Here.
Dr. Smrekar:

“I urge scrutiny and call attention to the consequences of school choice policies that are disconnected from the founding principles of public education: building a democratic society.  I would argue that unfettered choice programs, coupled with new legal constraints on diversity, threaten to undercut the opportunities and obligations of the nation’s public education system to promote equity, excellence, opportunity, and diversity simultaneously.”

As Neal McCluskey meticulously and eloquently illustrated in “As American as Bavarian Cream Pie” in a 2008 July/August Cato Policy Report (which TNSC discussed Here and we encourage a full reading for a full understanding):

“We are told that state schooling is critical to American unity and freedom.  Nothing could be further from the truth. Voluntary, largely private education was the norm as the American colonies grew into a free, strong nation.  When public schooling did grow, it sowed conflict wherever there was not already unity. 

‘Soon, everyone in America recognized the enlightenment of public schooling and erected their own systems wiping out ignorance, teaching all children how to live in a free society, and giving even the poorest kids unprecedented upward mobility.’  That compelling narrative is used to explain the epic purpose of public schooling and demand continued fealty to it. It’s also a myth that undergirds a fundamentally flawed—and un-American—institution, twists historical truth beyond recognition, and is rooted in the conviction that freedom can only be granted to adults if the state indoctrinates the children.”

In truth, it is centrally planned, monopoly, compulsory assignment of education (unless you are wealthy enough to privately fund) that is “disconnected from the founding principles of” our nation.  Having the freedom to choose your education is fundamental to liberty.

It is through school choice that we will achieve “true” diversity.  One of the greatest problems of our current education system is segregation – not by race – but as a result of wealth; resulting in a tiered education system.  Wealthy neighborhoods, generally, have cleaner, safer and better schools.  Those with wealth can escape failing schools.  Further, forcibly integrating our very diverse society based on zip codes has not led to unification, but to endless lawsuits, conflict and resentments.  “Simply forcing people into the same building…furnishes no ties that bind.”  When people are free to come together voluntarily due to shared interests, faith or self interest we see “real” or “true” diversity.

We refer readers to “Integration Where It Counts: A Study of Racial Integration in Public And Private School Lunchrooms by Jay P. Greene and Nicole Mellow presented at the Meeting of the American Political Science Association, Boston, September, 1998 (which TNSC discussed Here and we encourage a full reading for a full understanding):

“The belief that public schools produce better integration than private schools is deeply held by many people, but it is unfortunately supported by little empirical evidence. In this paper we take a systematic look at integration in a random sample of public and private schools in two cities. Unlike previous studies of integration in schools, our data are drawn from a setting in which racial mixing has greater meaning: the lunchroom.

Our analyses suggest that private schools tend to offer a more racially integrated environment than do public schools. The primary explanation for private schools’ success at integration is that private school attendance is not as closely attached to where one lives as attendance at public schools. Public schools tend to replicate and reinforce racial segregation in housing. Because private schools do not require that their students live in particular neighborhoods, they can more easily overcome segregation in housing to provide integration in school. The strong religious mission and higher social class found in most private schools are also factors that contribute to better racial integration.

We should no longer accept unquestioningly the widely held view that public schools are better at integration than private schools. We should seriously consider policy proposals that would detach schooling from housing. This could include magnet schools and other public school choice programs as well as school choice programs that include private schools. If we include private schools in choice programs we should seriously consider including religious schools among the available options because the religious mission of those schools may further advance racial integration in schools.”

The idea that a monopoly is the best method to achieve “equity, excellence, opportunity” defies the evidence all around us to the contrary.  We quote Ward Connerly who recently wrote in the Wall Street Journal (Here), More than anything else, the pursuit of diversity overshadows and subordinates excellence and competence and often makes us content with mediocrity.”

We believe our examples above address Dr. Smrekar’s concerns and questions regarding “diversity and excellence” as well as questioning if “the imperatives of civility and diversity remain core values in public school choice policies (e.g., charter schools, magnet schools, voucher programs) today? In what measures and magnitude?”  Being free to choose one’s education not only meets “the imperatives of civility and diversity,” but would expand and implement it better, in real and meaningful ways.  Further, liberty demands it.

Because some may choose to associate based on religion, interests, skills or other self interest above and beyond race, does not make it segregation in the evil sense.  It is freedom.  It is liberty.

We agree with Dr. Smrekar’s call to further discuss and debate “What works?” While in Tennessee we have many wonderful, successful, established private school choices and some great magnet and charter schools we must know what works. Competition will allow educators to break away from all of the laws, rules and regulations preventing innovation, but at the same time we cannot allow just any carpet bagging, snake oil salesman to open up a store front school.  Vetting is required and who and how to achieve vetting schools must be debated.

School choice is critical to attaining the “opportunities and obligations of the nation’s public education system to promote equity, excellence, opportunity, and diversity simultaneously.”

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