The predominance of research and data examining public education privatization in Chicago indicate that there are few financial savings, decreased student achievement, increased racial inequality, increased class size, and increased violence. Considering these outcomes, educators and community-based stakeholders have not remained silent in the face of this apparent injustice. In this paper, we examine teacher and community-based activism in Chicago situated against the local and broader reform efforts to which they fight against. We focus on strategies implemented by educator and community-based activists in response to the broader aims of school reforms, those specific to Chicago, and more broadly across the United States. We conclude by discussing the implications of the strategies that have been borne out of the activism in Chicago as well as across the country.
A report by the American Enterprise Institute (AEI), Differences by Design?, compares differences in approaches and demographics between and among charter school models and local “traditional public schools.” Using three national data sets, the report effectively captures the national universe of charter schools. It empirically demonstrates that cream-skimming occurs and that charters segregate by income, special education, race and ethnicity, in that different demographic groups attend different types of charter schools. Charter schools, the authors contend, provide differentiated and “innovative schooling options” through varied academic models that cater to, and ultimately reflect, parental choices for their children. The resulting de facto segregation is presented as a benign byproduct of beneficial choices differentially associated with different racial and ethnic groups. They contend this is “in line with a properly functioning charter sector.” Unfortunately, the report does not demonstrate familiarity with the research on parent decision-making or with the extensive research suggesting that charter schools are not particularly innovative in the curricular or instructional options. Despite what the report claims, traditional public schools do, in fact, offer various academic model specializations like the ones offered by the charter schools. Ultimately, the report’s dismissive characterization of de facto segregation in charters, as a benign byproduct of parental choice, is at odds with the purpose and aims of equitable public education.
A new report from the American Enterprise Institute (AEI), Do Impacts on Test Scores Even Matter? Lessons from Long-Run Outcomes in School Choice Research, examines whether student achievement scores on math and English language arts tests align with “long-run” attainment outcomes such as high school graduation rates, college enrollment, and college graduation rates. Drawing on a systematic review of the literature, it concludes that the impacts of school choice programs on test scores are not well connected to such attain- ment outcomes, which are presented as more positive. This review considers two issues with the report: consistency and evidence. Regarding consistency, the report’s suggestion that achievement scores should play a smaller role in determining the efficacy of school choice models represents a stunning effort to move the goalposts in search of new justifications for supporting their preferred policies. After decades of pro-school-choice research and advo- cacy promoting test score comparisons with public schools as the primary measurement for evaluating school choice models (e.g., charters and school vouchers), the AEI report now suggests that less attention be given to these learning outcomes. Regarding evidence, the AEI report is riddled with numerous internal inconsistencies in its discussion and treatment of a set of studies that were selected by questionable methods. In view of the 180-degree turn based on questionable evidence, the report — despite the authors’ assertions — is of little use to policymakers.
The 18th edition of the American Legislative Exchange Council’s (ALEC) Report Card on American Education: Ranking State K-12 Performance, Progress, and Reform draws on ratings from market-oriented advocacy groups to grade states in areas such as support for charter schools, availability of vouchers, and permissiveness for homeschooling. The authors contend that these grades are based on “high quality” research demonstrating that the policies for which they award high grades will improve education for all students. This review finds that, contrary to these claims, ALEC’s grades draw selectively from these advocacy groups to make claims that are not supported in the wider, peer-reviewed literature. In fact, the research ALEC highlights is quite shoddy and is unsuitable for supporting its recommendations. The authors’ claims of “a growing body of research” lacks citations; their grading system contradicts the testing data that they report; and their data on alternative teacher research is simply wrong. Overall, ALEC’s Report Card is grounded less in research than in ideological tenets, as reflected in the high grades it assigns to states with unproven and even disproven market-based policies. The report’s purpose appears to be more about shifting control of education to private interests than in improving education.
Competition requires competitors and marketplaces require marketing, this much is simple. The reliance on competition necessitates a mechanism for comparison and selling and it is through such advertisements that a product or brand seek to set themselves apart from one another in the insatiable quest for customers and money. While much on school privatization has been written over the past two decades there remains a dearth in the conversation surrounding one of the most crucial components of the educational marketplace: the use of advertising in the public versus private debate. Thankfully, Catherine DiMartino and Sarah Butler Jessen’s Selling School: The Marketing of Public Education (Teachers College Press, 2018) provides such a conversation. As budgets reflect priorities, it is clear from DiMartino and Jessen’s text that what matters most for education reformers is edvertising their brand and growing for the sake of growing. This has opened the opportunity for edvertising from these organizations to convey deceptive messages to potential parents and students while creating hostile environments for teachers. The muddle of private-public spaces has redefined how we conceive of education and the resulting educational marketplaces. While marketplaces are, by their nature, full of advertisements from competing interests, the key takeaway from Selling School, in my view, is that those pushing privatized education reform are keen on advertising what may very well be nothing but over-hyped snake oil that is a solution in search of a problem.