The group Parents for Educational Freedom and other defenders of the state’s ill-conceived voucher law have said that North Carolina simply doesn’t educate poor children well and that such children are victims of an inferior education model. Following this reasoning, the way to improve our public education system would be to abandon it and participate actively in its destruction.
While stating that children in our poorest schools tend not to perform well on state tests, voucher defenders fail to ask the obvious question of why students at poor schools tend to struggle most on these tests. In declaring that vouchers are a benefit to poor communities, their advocates reveal their underlying assumption: They believe that poor communities are failing their own children, but that poverty itself must have nothing to do with why.
This insulting notion reeks of the malfeasance motivating political voucher advocates. Communities in poverty have poorly performing schools because their students must overcome greater obstacles to perform at their educational best. Their not scoring as well on bubble tests as wealthier schools is not due to some intrinsic fault in those students or their teachers, and poverty certainly isn’t a problem that began inside a school.
Do voucher supporters think it’s a coincidence that all of the “failing” schools in our state have unacceptably high degrees of poverty? Do they believe that poor communities are unable to educate their children and that the teachers, students and parents in those communities are to blame for their difficulties?
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We know how the anti-public education narrative in the legislature works: Declare that public schools are failing and then make it increasingly difficult for them to succeed by taking away human and financial resources and by treating teachers like piñatas, so that experienced educators leave and our brightest young people shun the profession. Add to that the privatization of schools with vouchers and the expansion of charters, neither of which has an obligation to serve the entire community as public schools do, and you begin to see how the narrative created by lawmakers starts to become reality as the result of their own destructive actions, even giving them more excuses to further starve our schools of all manner of resources.
There are no educational standards, teacher training or staff background checks required for the private schools receiving millions in taxpayer-subsidized vouchers. Quite literally anybody can teach anything on the taxpayers’ dime with nary an iota of oversight at voucher schools. This lack of accountability means that students can be exposed to a buffet of outlandish ideas in science and history without any academic oversight. Vouchers have nothing to do with “educational freedom” or choice. Parents already have the right to send their children to whatever school, teaching whatever curriculum, they like.
Unlike our public schools, private schools that receive these millions of taxpayer dollars are not required to submit to the legislature’s asinine A-F “grading” system for schools. That is because the A-F system wasn’t designed to actually measure school performance – it was designed to give legislators another maliciously conceived and arbitrary way to condemn public schools in order to pave the way for voucher schemes like this one.
It’s no coincidence that as $17 million was allocated to unaccountable private schools via vouchers, the elimination of 8,700 teacher assistant positions – the largest layoff in North Carolina history – was set into motion. These concerted actions represent the progress of the legislative plan to eviscerate public education and the teaching profession.
We who do the work of educating our children in public schools realize well that our duty is to all of the people of this state. We know well the legislature’s plans for public education, and we seek to shed light on it. At least so far, they can’t gerrymander teachers. Voucher supporters either are pawns in the legislature’s attempts to dismantle public education as a public good or knowingly complicit in that dismantling. Rather than participate in the improvement of this vital pillar of our democracy for all of our children, many voucher advocates gleefully celebrate and facilitate its enemies.
The way to improve the schools in our poorest communities is not to tear down public education, but to honestly identify and address the causes and conditions of poverty that created these educational challenges in the first place.
Lee Quinn is a public school teacher in Raleigh.