It’s Really All Over for Charter Schools

Although some smart people apparently didn’t see it coming, the writing has been on the wall for charter schools for about two years now. The final nail in its coffin might have come yesterday when former President Barack Obama endorsed a mea culpa from the “ed-reform” movement.obama tweet

As SAGLRROILLYBYGTH are sick of hearing, the remarkable success of charter schools resulted, in large part, from the diverse political coalition that backed them. Conservative evangelicals liked the idea of a refuge from the supposedly secularized public schools. White segregationists hoped charters could stave off school integration. Urban African-American activists liked the notion of a better option for low-income youth. Secular free-marketeers wanted to break the monopoly of the teachers’ unions. Ambitious young overachievers liked the idea of entrepreneurship in education, instead of slogging up the teacher-career ladder.

To be sure, the so-called “reform” movement wasn’t only about charter schools. It also included a heavy emphasis on high-stakes standardized testing. The goal was to make sure lazy teachers and underresourced schools could no longer ignore children who didn’t sparkle. Reformers dreamed of displacing the “soft bigotry of low expectations” and making sure no child was left behind.

All laudable goals, and all goals that attracted support from across the political spectrum. Until, that is, Hurricane Betsy swept into town. As we’ve discussed in these pages, Secretary DeVos’s reign as educational Trumpist has changed the nature of the ed-reform discussion. Instead of a broad movement open to both Democrats and Republicans, charter schools and the rest of the “reform” movement have now become the signature ed policy of Trump-wingers.

Democrats have fallen over one another rushing for the exits. Leading 2020 contenders such as Cory Booker, Elizabeth Warren, and Beto O’Rourke all have significant histories as charter supporters and they’re all scrambling to find ways to deny it.

Yesterday, when St. Obama tweeted his agreement with a recent Atlantic article, the handwriting on the wall received its final punctuation. As President Obama wrote,

This is worth a read: a thought-provoking reminder that education reform isn’t a cure-all. As a supporter of education reform, I agree that fixing educational inequality requires doing more to address the broader, systemic sources of economic inequality.

By throwing his enormous party prestige into the mix, President Obama has surely spelled the doom of charter-schools and other “reform” measures among the Democratic Party. And when any reform becomes the signature issue of only one political party, it is surely doomed to deadlock, decline, and defeat.


I Love You but You Didn’t Do the Reading

Another week has come and gone. Here are some stories that flew by our editorial window:

More on Evergreen State: Michael Aaron argues that we should see it as a “mo/po-mo” battle, “a petri dish for applied postmodernism.” HT: MM

Why are American schools getting more segregated?

Does America need more “intellectual humility?” Philosopher Michael Lynch makes his case in the Chronicle of Higher Education.


Words, words, words…

Southern Baptist Convention: Kicking out LGBTQ; wondering about the “alt-right.”

Nerd note: Drew Gilpin Faust stepping down as Harvard’s president.

Nerd follow-up: Who’s in the running to replace her? How about President Obama?

The libertarian case against public education.

DeVos continues to make long-held conservative educational dreams come true. The latest? Announcing a plan to scale-back civil-rights enforcement.

Michigan jumps in. The university at Ann Arbor announced a free-tuition program, joining similar plans in Boston and New York.

How can we improve lame and uninformative student evaluations of college classes? How about teaching partnerships?

Shakespeare takes center stage in culture-war showdown: A conservative activist disrupts a production of Julius Caesar.

How to Save the GOP

What can conservatives do to shed their image as “a party of plutocrats who get a kick out of kicking the poor when they’re down”[?]

Writing in the pages of libertarian flagship Reason Magazine, A. Barton Hinkle pleads with conservatives to get on the charter-school bus.

Liberal politicians such as President Obama and New York City Mayor Bill De Blasio have handed conservatives a golden opportunity, Hinkle argues.  When liberals close down charter schools and limit vouchers, they doom low-income children to “reactionary” public schools.  By promoting market reforms, allowing parents to choose among a variety of schools, conservatives can kill two birds with one stone.

First, conservatives will be able to introduce a significant measure of market discipline into a social institution firmly dominated by entrenched and bloated unions.  Second, conservatives will be able to claim without flinching that they represent society’s least powerful.  Charter schools and voucher opportunities can benefit low-income parents the most.

Can this strategy work?  Can conservatives take the wind from liberals’ sails by promoting school privatization?

We’ve seen recently how it can fail.  Mayor De Blasio’s recent challenger Joe Lhota went all-in for charter schools.  Didn’t help.

Perhaps other conservative politicians will manage to do better.


Fundamentalist America: A Lock for the GOP?

Casual observers might assume that every Fundamentalist vote is a lock for the GOP.  After all, at least since Reagan took the evangelical vote away from the evangelical Jimmy Carter, the Republican Party has cultivated an image as the staunch defender of life, family, and traditional values.

Reagan at the 1983 NAE Convention.


So even though the presumptive GOP nominee is a leader of the LDS Church, it is a general electoral rule of thumb that Bible voters will go for Romney in 2012.

But will they?

An article in this week’s Economist tries to pick apart the “evangelical vote.”  The article offers some interesting numbers.  Here are a few to consider:  in 2008, 65% of (self-identified) white evangelicals called themselves Republicans.  A recent poll put that number at 70%.  Self-identified white evangelicals made up 44% of Republican primary voters in 2008, compared to “over half” in the first 16 GOP primaries in 2012.  That’s a strong vote of support.

But look at the other side of those numbers.  In 2008, almost one-quarter of evangelical voters voted for Barack Obama.  Part of that support comes from a closer look at the meaning of “evangelical.”  President Obama, according to the Economist article (citing a Pew Research Center poll), enjoys a 93-point lead over Governor Romney among African American voters.  And those voters, after all, include a large percentage who are evangelicals.

The numbers get even dicier when we expand our understanding of “Fundamentalist America” beyond the boundaries of evangelical Protestantism.  Many conservative Catholic voters line up these days with conservative Protestants to vote for a vision of traditional Christian values.  And the conservative Catholic vote includes large numbers of Latino voters.  Such voters may vote for the GOP as the pro-life, pro-family, pro-Jesus party.  But many Latinos might be turned off by the Republicans’ growing support for harsh anti-immigration laws, many of which seem to target Latinos specifically.  As the Economist article points out, President Obama leads Governor Romney by 67% to 27% among surveyed Latino voters.

Could these numbers harken a shake-up of the relationship between Fundamentalist America and the two major parties?  For those who know their history, it would not be the first time.  After all, before the 1980 presidential elections, white evangelicals often portrayed themselves as above party politics.  They claimed to vote for candidates who best embodied the values of Bible-believing America.  And before the 1930s, African American voters reliably voted Republican, the Party of Lincoln.

Could we be on the verge of another party shake-up?  Could the Democratic Party attract young and non-white conservative Christians by appealing to social justice issues?  Could the GOP fumble by alienating non-white Fundamentalists and young social-justice evangelicals?  Even more interesting, could we be on the verge of a vast party realignment, of the kind that has revolutionized party politics a few times in the past?  In the mid-1800s, the new Republican Party built a powerful coalition out of the remnants of the Whig Party, the American Party, and abolitionists.  In the 1930s, the Democratic Party built another blockbuster with a Solid (white) South, urban “ethnic” voters, the union vote, and non-whites.

These powerful electoral coalitions don’t need to be logical.  But a new party that combined today’s Democratic Party’s tradition of social justice, plus the GOP’s tradition of traditional Christian values, could capture this broad middle from Fundamentalist America.