Education news lately has been one long advertisement for school choice. Tag line: It’s the administrators, stupid.
Foremost was the underwhelming report this past week on suspected test cheating in Atlanta Public Schools, and Superintendent Beverly Hall’s stubborn denial of even its modest implications. There also came word that an accrediting agency was looking into the utter managerial collapse in DeKalb County schools.
Before that, the AJC reported on conflict-of-interest stories involving the purchases by DeKalb schools of hundreds of copies of an administrator’s autobiography, and thousands of dollars worth of food from a school board member’s pizzerias. Not to mention DeKalb’s spending $4.2 million to hire 67 teachers from overseas, even though scores of educators in metro Atlanta have been laid off since spring.
You’ll notice a common thread here — and not only that DeKalb is starting to make even Clayton County’s school leaders look good. Much of the rot in our public schools starts at the head, a problem that school choice uniquely can solve.
Clayton’s failings a couple of years ago are legendary. The DeKalb stories speak for themselves. The freshest angle to the APS outrage is that Hall thinks the confirmation of statistically improbable irregularities involving over 100 educators at more than two dozen schools still does not prove “pervasive cheating” occurred.
I’d hate to see what Hall considers a truly rampant problem. Perhaps the second major technology-bidding scandal on her watch, one that could cost APS tens of millions of dollars?
Somehow, I doubt it.
Students, parents and taxpayers are being let down by school leaders (the chair of Atlanta’s board was also a member of the panel that sought to exonerate Hall and her staff in the test cheating inquiry). More choice for students, increasing competition and making the education bureaucracy face reality, is more vital than ever.
As the above scandals illustrate, pushing for school choice isn’t about blaming teachers. In fact, measures to promote choice, from vouchers to charter schools and virtual education, ought to be just as attractive to teachers as they are to students and parents.
If you’re a teacher stuck in one of the schools being pressured to order buy goods from board members and administrators, or to ignore or even cooperate with cheating among your colleagues, having more employment options should sound good right about now.
But the noises from the current and future education establishment might not be so pleasant.
The two Republican finalists for governor are lukewarm at best about school choice, as is the GOP nominee for state schools superintendent. (Hint: when you hear Republicans say only that vouchers are not “a silver bullet,” when hardly anyone claims they are a cure-all, it usually means they don’t consider vouchers an option, period.) Their respective Democratic opponents are worse.
Legislators might not be much better. They turned tail in this year’s session when asked to extend vouchers just to foster children and kids in military families. That doesn’t bode well for more ambitious moves.
The way to change the momentum on choice is to convince teachers that it is in their interests, too. Let’s hope it doesn’t take too many more big administrative failings for them to bite.