Monday Reading List: Vouchers Continue to Not Work, Alabama Tries to Exacerbate Segregation, and Fighting Over History

Erica Green of The New York Times reports on the Washington, DC school voucher program:

For more than a decade, House Republicans led by the former Speaker John A. Boehner have used school children in the nation’s capital as an experiment for school choice, funding a far-reaching voucher program to send poor children to private schools over the opposition of local teachers and unions. Now, with Betsy DeVos, one of the country’s fiercest advocates of school choice, installed as education secretary, that experiment is poised to go national ... The examination of the D.C. Opportunity Scholarship Program, the only federally funded voucher program in the country, by the department’s Institute of Education Sciences, found that students who attended a private school through the program performed worse on standardized tests than their public school counterparts who did not use the vouchers.

These results accompany similar findings in Louisiana and Indiana, where students who attended private schools using public money also lost ground. The failure of these small, controlled programs should be the death knell for a policy idea, which will perform even worse under less accountability and oversight when expanded. It is striking to me that conservative education reformers continues to pine for more voucher programs when the results are so consistently bad.

In other news, Emma Brown of The Washington Post zooms in on a mostly-white Alabama community that wants to secede from its mostly-black neighboring town:

For years, Gardendale, a bedroom community of Birmingham, has been pushing to form its own small school system. That would mean leaving the school system of surrounding Jefferson County, where black students outnumber whites. Backers of secession have said that they are seeking local control over schools, not racial segregation. But opponents say that the separation is deeply tied to race and should not be allowed in a place that has been struggling to desegregate its schools since black families first sued half a century ago.

Me, when the people of Gardendale argue that their actions have nothing to do with race:

The rhetoric in this case is ugly and serves as a good reminder that residential segregation isn't just the result of existing policy or personal decisions. In this community in 2017, white folks are taking collective action to heighten segregation. I'd like to see states intervene in situations like this, with the same enthusiasm that they evince when taking over school systems in predominantly non-white communities. This proactive racial segregation is the reason that "local control" will be a problematic idea, so long as institutional white supremacy persists in this country.

In other news, Rachel Cohen is in Democracy with a look at how the informal oral history of public charter schooling compares with the actual genesis of the charter phenomenon:

Despite the controversy over their very existence, there isn’t much disagreement over how charter schools came to be. For over 25 years, charter supporters and opponents alike have settled on a straightforward creation story, one defined by a single irresistible irony: Charters were first and foremost the brainchild of teachers’ unions, the very same groups that would become the schools’ greatest foes ... Many supporters use it to argue that charters are, ultimately, a progressive and student-friendly idea—but one abandoned by self-interested latter-day union leaders ... For their part, teacher unions and reform skeptics invoke the same origin story as evidence that they do support school choice and innovation, just teacher-led, unionized, mom-and-pop forms of it ... There’s only one problem with the idea that charters started with Shanker and his speech: It’s almost completely wrong.

Cohen gets many things right here, especially the idea that charter rhetoric has been weaponized to score political points, and that the political talk evinces little connection to actual policy idealism anymore. The expansion of charter schooling happened but for the grace of technocratic centrists. In an era of extraordinary polarization, it's no surprise that public charters - like many ideas borne from technocratic centrism - are struggling to find political footing.

Finally, Inkoo Kang of MTV News interviewed Justin Simien, the director whose Netflix series - Dear White People - picks up where his film of the same name left off several years ago. Simien talks about examining history in order to enliven contemporary themes of campus activism:

One of the things I saw as I visited a bunch of colleges talking about the [Dear White People] movie was, at the bigger colleges, there was this odd, very personal infighting. Black people instinctively know we're not a monolith, but it was really interesting to see how personally these kids took on their differences. There was major beef. [For example,] the Black Student Union versus the African-American Student Union — they have very real ideological differences with each other, what their role on campus was, and everyone thought that they were the best version of it. That mirrors exactly what we went through in the civil rights movement in the ’60s. One of the things that the show really concerns itself with is, how do we do civil activism? How do we change things in the system? When we look back to the last time black people really made some meaningful gains, which was in the ’60s, we were also infighting — different people from all over the ideological spectrum talked about what to do about the problem of race.

I'm an unabashed fan of this show, so my transparent bias suggests that you should binge watch every episode. Have a great week!