Posted by Steve Turley ● Dec 27, 2017 1:20:24 PM

RIP Teachers Unions: School Choice is the Wave of the Future!!!

I wanted to share with you some great news on the school choice front. It happened just the other week in Illinois. The Republican governor there, Bruce Rauner just signed legislation that has made Illinois the 18th state to offer tax credit scholarships to provide private school tuition for low- and middle-income families. The program will offer $75 million in tax credits and fund up to $100 million scholarships over the course of the year. And these tax credits and scholarships are now available to families with incomes up to 300 percent of the federal poverty level, or just over $70,000 for a family of four.

Now, what’s so exciting here is that while Illinois is the 18th state to offer tax credit scholarships to students, they are now the 26th state to offer some form of private school choice educational programs, which makes the school choice movement officially the majority education paradigm in the US.

Now, of course, if you’ve been following the political course of school choice over the years, you know it’s been a long time coming. It more or less began through the advocacy of the libertarian economist Milton Freedman back in the 1960s, which manifested in a short-lived voucher program under Richard Nixon in California. But school choice really began to take off in the 1990s, largely through frustrated and disaffected black politicians who grew sick and tired of the years of public educational stagnation and rot in their respective districts.

And so, since then, school choice has steadily climbed to become as of just last week the majority educational paradigm for the nation. The charter school movement continues to grow, to about 7,000 charters out of the nearly 100,000 public schools, that’s reaching almost 10 percent of all publicly funded schools. In terms of voucher programs, there are currently about 100,000 students getting vouchers to attend private school and about 200,000 getting tax-credit-funded scholarships to private schools, like we see in Illinois. And there are currently three states that have implemented ESAs or Educational Savings Accounts for their students, where the money goes directly to the parents to spend as they wish on educational options.

Now of course the teachers unions are not very happy about all of this. In fact, many see – quite rightly, in my estimation – that the dominance of school choice means nothing less than the apocalypse for teachers’ unions, it’s their death knell. And they know it. In just this last case, in Illinois, the teachers’ unions in the guise of the National Education Association did everything they possibly could to oppose the school choice bill. And of course, it was thought by many that such opposition would be fatal to any current school choice effort, as it’s been in the past. Deep blue Illinois has been dominated by the Democratic Party and by the teachers’ unions, which has consistently and completely frustrated any possible effective education reform.

But, you can’t stop historical, social, and cultural trajectories, and those trajectories are now in our favor, those of us who support school choice and conservative-based education reform. The teachers’ unions were literally mowed over by mass bipartisan support for the school choice initiative and, when the numbers and political trajectories aren’t there anymore, the teachers’ unions collapse; they literally keel over and die. There’s nothing they can do to stop it.

And they’re not going to be able to stop it. This, I would argue, is the wave of the future. Education innovation, in the form of school choice, educational optionality, is the wave of the future. Scholars are already talking about it, writing about, and all over the world, not just here in the US.

What we have to understand is that since the 1970s, there have been basically three mass waves of education reform throughout the world. I’m drawing here from the wonderful work of Yin Cheong Cheng of the Hong Kong Institute of Education, whose been tracking these waves of educational reform for some time now.

He notes that the first wave of reforms back in the 1970s stressed the role of policy-makers and internal leadership in realizing the educational aims. He calls this the ‘internal effectiveness’ reform. This is where there are clear educational goals for the students set by the respective principal or superintendent, and then he or she is responsible for implementing the kind of teaching qualifications and recruiting procedures and faculty training necessary for the realization of such goals. We might think of this period as the height of the district-defined educational approach, where the principal is the manager and the children and families in the district are the clientele.

However, the problem here was that this approach fell short of responding to the diverse needs and expectations of parents, students, employers, and policy-makers. It tended to defer to a one size fits all approach to education that failed to meet the increasingly diversified demands of the local communities being served.

And, so this shortfall led to a second wave of reforms, which Cheng calls ‘interface effectiveness’, and this involved the attempt to satisfy the needs of both internal and external stakeholders, as it were, both the school proper and the wider community. And so this is where you get the emphasis on mediators between the school and the community, often in the forms of national standards like we have here in the States, such as the No Child Left Behind initiative and Race to the Top, and of course the infamous Common Core, the attempt – however misguided – to establish national curricular standards. So whereas the emphasis on the first wave was on district-defined education via the school and the students, the second wave emphasized external accountability, which involved an outside mediator that sought to make the school accountable to the needs of the community, but again still geographically specific to the school district.

However, as we entered into the 21st century, there was a growing concern that this second wave of reforms fell short of meeting the challenges of a new era of globalization and the needs specific to an emerging information age. And at the heart of this concern was the way globalization and information technologies were changing the ways in which we pursue education. Historically, of course, the way we learned was highly localized, it was geographically specific; even if I traveled to a far-off university, my course of study was still pursued within the geographical limits of that university setting. But with the rise of the internet and what scholars are calling a network society, all of that has changed. In contrast to past societies that limited associations between people to populations within single areas, we now live in a world connected by mass media and telecommunications. In this world, associations between people or information are not limited to time, place, or location, but in fact extend far beyond historic frontiers. In fact, we’re all participating in this network society right now as I speak.

Now the important point here is that the unique pressures brought to bear on education by the rise of the network society and the information age has initiated a third wave of educational reform, what Cheng calls ‘future effectiveness’. So we’ve gone from reforms based on internal effectiveness to interface or mediated effectiveness and now to future effectiveness. And this third wave is precisely the current on which the school choice movement across the nation is sailing. A better way of looking at it is that school choice is merely an indicator of this larger wave in educational reform.

And so, in the new paradigm, schooling is both localized and globalized. It’s both local and translocal. Whereas in the old paradigms, the local school was the center of the student’s education, now, the local school is more the facilitator of the student’s education. It provides a resource center, as it were, for the vast array of options now available to the student by virtue of the rise of a network society and information age.

For example, did you know that today we have tuition-free online and virtual public schools that serve homeschoolers? Let that hit you, because I think it captures exactly where we’re going in all of this. We are living in a new educational paradigm where public schools now include homeschooling.

You see, whereas educational options centered on the local school in the old educational paradigm, now the local school is but one of innumerable options within the new educational paradigm. That’s really important for us to get in order to understand where education is going today at a global level. Whereas as the old education paradigm was district defined and delineated, centered on the local brick and mortar school, now more and more the local school is but one option within the wave of options in this new education paradigm.

This is why the insistence by teachers’ unions that educational options have to be limited to the offerings provided by school districts is becoming more and more absurd; it’s not a matter of right or wrong so much as it’s a matter of natural and unnatural, normal and abnormal. Our social and cultural environment has radically changed, and to insist on continuing an educational paradigm devised before any of these changes took place again appears more and more unnatural and abnormal. With the new educational paradigm now thoroughly focused on the future and future effectiveness, the reasons for continuing this highly localized, centralized, district-dictated, teachers’ union based educational paradigm eventually just begin to dry up, as we saw in deep blue Illinois. They more and more begin to fall on deaf ears.

And as we’ve seen with the Washington, DC school choice program and now most recently with deep blue Illinois, this is a movement that is cutting across the political partisan divide. Who would ever have imagined the Republican Senator and former and I’m sure future presidential candidate Ted Cruz sharing the stage in solidarity with the ultra-liberal Democrat Representative Sheila Jackson Lee as both together advocate school choice for their respective constituents? But this is happening across the political spectrum with school choice. School choice is proving to be an issue capable of amassing a remarkably diverse and mass constituency of supporters. And this is because school choice is simply a symptom of a mass paradigm shift that’s going on all over the world; it is itself part of a third wave of educational reform that is being carried by forces larger than any one person or administrative or political leader.

And we can see this paradigm shift in the polls. A recent poll found that 75 percent of millennials support school choice. The left-leaning Beck Research polling company found that 75 percent of all Latinos polled support school choice. Blacks poll consistently at around 70 percent of support. But here’s the real death knell for the old teachers’ union-based paradigm; The Beck Research poll found that a majority of Democrats – 55 percent – support school choice. That’s the bell tolling for union-based district-dictated public education.

So all of this is to say that what happened of late in Illinois is the wave of the future. School choice is part of a much larger paradigm shift in educational reform that’s been going on now for over 40 years, such that I don’t think we’re very far away from seeing school choice as the default educational paradigm in all 50 states. President Trump of course floated the idea of allocating $20 billion for a national school choice initiative and he tapped one of the major school choice advocates, Betsy DeVos, to head the Department of Education; now he has yet to implement such an initiative, but whether he does so or not, school choice is on its way; it’s not a matter of if, but when. It’s not dependent on Trump. In fact, I wouldn’t be surprised if a Democrat were the one to implement a national school choice program. This is the nature of paradigm shifts, where both parties recalibrate around the new normal in order to remain politically viable.

So this is very good news indeed. The school choice movement has passed the halfway point threshold, onwards and upwards to becoming the new national educational paradigm for the foreseeable future.

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