In a speech delivered July 20, American Federation of Teachers president Randi Weingarten characterized the school choice movement as merely an outgrowth of segregationist policies.
Across the country, students, parents and teachers have seen the benefits of school choice. Underprivileged students who might’ve otherwise been condemned to underperforming traditional public schools have been given the chance to attend schools that will actually educate them. Parents have been empowered to choose the best school for their child. And teachers have been given more flexibility in teaching.
Somewhere in this, Weingarten sees the product of “an intentional, decades-long campaign to protect the economic and political power of the few against the rights of the many.”
Framing the fight over education policy as a David versus Goliath battle, in which the AFT is David and school choice proponents are Goliath, Weingarten sought to make the case that school choice is merely a means for wealthy privatizers to undermine public schools.
Arguing “the term ‘choice’ was used to cloak overt racism by segregationist politicians,” Weingarten seemingly wanted conference attendees to tie the word “choice” to “racism, sexism, classism, xenophobia and homophobia” which, she claims, are all forms of division created by the same forces behind school choice.
Such conspiratorial and convoluted rhetoric is nothing new from the teachers unions. The United Teachers Los Angeles recently attempted to peg two candidates for school board as puppets of billionaire privatizers intent on dismantling public schools. Voters didn’t buy the scare tactics and elected Nick Melvoin and Kelly Gonez to the Los Angeles Unified school board in May, giving the nation’s second-largest district a pro-charter school majority for the first time.
While teachers unions have yet to build momentum off the billionaire-conspiracy angle, Weingarten has unfortunately chosen to go down the route of drawing dubious links between racism and school choice. It’s a rhetorical tactic wrought with irony, considering school choice programs have demonstrated great potential in helping especially underprivileged black and Latino students succeed.
The Center for Research on Education Outcomes at Stanford University has found that black students in California charter schools perform significantly better on reading and math than black students in traditional public schools. Additionally, both black and Latino students in poverty have been found to make more learning gains than their counterparts in traditional public schools.
While voucher programs across the country have yielded mixed results, the idea of vouchers remains popular. In April, the Public Policy Institute of California found 73 percent of blacks and 69 percent of Latinos in the state backed the vouchers for use at the school of a parents choice.
There’s a reason for the enduring popularity of school choice: parents actually want the freedom to choose, however inconvenient that might be for teachers unions desperate to retain their political stranglehold over education policy.
Parents, students and teachers deserve better than the warped thinking of teachers unions like AFT which put political power before choice and results.
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