The timing couldn’t be more perfect for this year’s “ School Choice Week,” the nationally orchestrated right-wing funded annual public relations extravaganza touting alternatives to traditional public schools, including charters, virtual charters, home schools, and of course voucher-supported private and religious academies.
Next week the N.C. Department of Public Instruction will release grades for all the public schools in the state using an A-F grading scale for the first time. Eighty percent of the grade will be based on how students perform on end of grade tests and 20 percent will be based on growth in test scores.
It is almost a guarantee that most schools with wealthy, high-achieving students will receive higher grades than schools in low-income communities, regardless of how much the students improve to year to year at the poorer schools.
Many schools with high percentages of low-income students will have an “F” slapped on their door, prompting more hand-wringing about our “failing public schools” and how we need to expand virtual charters and the sketchy voucher program created last year by the General Assembly. That’s the point of the new grading system after all.
The constitutionality of the voucher scheme is now before the N.C. Supreme Court with a hearing scheduled for February 17th but almost 2,000 students attending private and religious schools this year are already using taxpayer-funded vouchers to pay for part of their private education.
None of those schools will receive an A-F grade next week. Neither will any of the several hundred private and religious academies eligible for the voucher program, regardless of what they teach or how they teach it or how well the students are doing.
They can teach that dinosaurs co-existed with humans, as many of the fundamentalist schools do, and that slaves were treated well and the Klan was a means of reform and fought a decline in morality. They won’t receive a letter grade next week and they are eligible for taxpayer funding.
They can teach, as many of the vouchers school do, that the earth is only a few thousand years old and that gay people have no more claims to civil rights than child molesters or rapists, and they won’t receive a grade next week and can receive taxpayer funding.
They can have three students and one teacher and meet in one room in a private home like Paramount Christian Academy in Davidson County, another school on the list to receive taxpayer-funded vouchers. Paramount won’t be receiving an A-F grade next week either.
Students at the voucher schools don’t have to take the same end of grade tests as students at traditional public schools and the schools don’t have to provide lunch or transportation or meet any basic curriculum standards at all.
But they can receive taxpayer money in the name of “school choice” that groups on the Right are celebrating this week.
Supporters of the A-F grading system, many of the same folks who also support expanding the voucher scheme, tell us repeatedly that the new grades are needed to give parents a true picture of how schools are doing.
Apparently the parents don’t need to know well how voucher schools are educating kids and neither do the taxpayers who will be funding them.
School Choice Week is actually its own organization with its own website, social media campaign and there’s a president and press secretary too. There’s even an official song and dance with a YouTube video to learn the steps, which the site says “are easier to learn than ever.”
Easier to learn even than what voucher schools are doing with our money.
Maybe next year we can have “School Choice Accountability Week.” That would be worth celebrating.