Privatization of Public Education

Be Afraid, Be Very Afraid

Dear Louisville Taxpayers & Voters,

This whole “privatizing public education” situation continues to reek of surprise players, questionable motives and hidden agendas. Since my Guest Commentary in the Courier-Journal was published on Friday, two high-profile charter school “defenders” have gone on the offensive toward my letter. I’m flattered, but really, you shouldn’t have.

Did You Even Read the Letter?

Even though my letter was focused on the reasons Dear JCPS supports certain board members over the Courier-Journal’s selections, Gary Houchens, a Bevin-appointee to the Kentucky Board of Education, wrote a rather lengthy and off-the-mark response to my points about the intentions behind efforts to privatize public education. This Tweet is where I first became aware of the post:

Since my opinion letter in the CJ was limited to 800 words, and providing extensive evidence of the failed experiment that charters represent in the 43 states where they have preceded us was not the main focus of this particular submission, I didn’t have an opportunity to provide specific arguments to the numerous assumptions he made about my points or my motivations. But that doesn’t mean that they don’t exist. However, I don’t think he truly intended to read my letter for understanding, given that he didn’t even spell my last name correctly.

Upon reading the Tweet, I quickly invited Mr. Houchens to meet for coffee at his earliest convenience so that I can respond to each of his challenges one by one, and he accepted. As his email response to me acknowledges, he doesn’t spend a lot of time in Louisville, so we will need to work around his next visit which won’t be until the end of November. Hmmm. He doesn’t spend a lot of time in Louisville, but he knows better than we do what causes our problems and what it will take to fix our schools. Interesting.

For starters, his positioning of pro-public education advocates as “anti-choice” is the first of many attempts to marginalize and oversimplify the concerns posed in my letter. In my objection to the harms done in a competitive environment, he naively asks, “Well I would ask, what competitive environment currently exists?” ARE YOU SERIOUS? Oh, right, you don’t live in Louisville, and you don’t send your kids to school in our “District of Choice.” So it only makes sense that you wouldn’t understand how a scenario that places an unhealthy emphasis on high-stakes test scores, pitting schools against each other, labeling schools that serve a higher needs, at-risk population as failing, and demoralizing students and teachers in these schools, could be competitive.

Mr. Houchens goes on to say:

It’s always easier to demonize those who see things differently than to deal with facts or engage in civil dialogue. I am myself very tempted to question the motives of those who oppose parental choice in education. It is easy to wonder if they are just shills for powerful teachers unions and other professional interests concerned merely with preserving the status quo. Or worse, that those (mostly white and affluent) who have already been able to exercise some measure of school choice want to make sure the poor, darker-skinned children have to stay put in other schools.

OK, Mr. Houchens. First, who’s demonizing vs. engaging in civil dialogue? I invited you to coffee as soon as I saw your Tweet, even before I thoroughly read your article. Yet, upon reading my letter, instead of reaching out to me, you posted an oversimplified counter argument disputing my points with false rhetoric, and questioning my motives with insinuations that I’m interested in preserving the status quo or making sure poor, darker-skinned children have to stay put. Had you done ANY research about our group or my own personal story, you’d know that couldn’t be further from the truth. I hope you come hungry that morning, because while I’m sipping my coffee, you’ll be eating your words with a knife and a fork — all civil like.

And Then This Happened

It wasn’t long before another Facebook friend alerted me to a second patronizing counter argument from BIPPS, which was also published yesterday. Apparently, I’m a “well-meaning,” but “confused” parent.  But at least he spelled my name right.

“So, to be sure, there are many problems with Kentucky’s traditional school system. However, a surprising number are more under direct control of the teachers than many, including Ms. Adelmann, seem to understand. In the case of school board elections, regardless of who winds up on the Jefferson County Board of Education or on any other local board, those elected officials will not have the authority to solve many of Adelmann’s problems, either.

If Adelmann really wants better schools, she‘s the one chasing silver bullets if she thinks a different makeup at the JCPS board will make that happen.”

So the teachers are in control? Wow, I can’t wait tell them! This changes everything!! What I do know is that the elected officials are the ones who have the direct responsibility to hold the Superintendent accountable. So, yeah, a different board makeup most certainly WILL have the authority to solve the problems we’ve been addressing. Chair Jones has been too accepting of the faulty data and endless spin, giving Dr. Hargens too much latitude for far too long. The right board makeup can create a dynamic to push back on half-baked proposals and misleading assertions. How do I know? Because I’ve been an active participant in the process. Has Mr. Innes? No, no he has not.

This humorous response from a Dear JCPS member who read the BIPPS article also noted the problem with the above paragraph:

“Who wrote that article [from BIPPS]? I love it [sarcasm]. The problem is the schools [more sarcasm]. Inadvertently [the author] is saying that the problem is the teachers. Yeah, teachers are the problem. Those who sit in lounge smokers that run around doing nothing but looking for answer books [queue Simpson’s video] while they collect their $500,000 per year salary and slap every administrator around telling them what to do. Wait, I think I confused teachers with charter school CEOs. Yeah, that’s what we need. We need more charter school CEOs in our state so that they can make large political donations to the pubes in this state that seem to think government can’t do anything. I guess roads should be privatized as well. How about stop lights easements. U know what, let’s just jettison government altogether. Capitalism will save us. Oh and sorry about dumping the PCBs and giving you cancer. Here’s a voucher for a drawing to win a bucket of chicken dinner.”

Funny thing is, I’ve engaged with Dick Innes on Twitter before. He makes some wild assumptions about low-performing schools. Instead of trying to play “he said, she said,” with him in 140 characters, I tried to dispel his stereotypical beliefs with an invitation to visit my son’s persistently low achieving school in the West End. Suddenly, “crickets.” Will he respond to yet another request sent today to meet for coffee or tour the school? I sure hope so. For the kids’ sakes.

Mr. Houchens’ statement “education is a public good and should be generously funded” gives me hope. I look forward to seeing if, once I give him REAL WORLD examples of the points he tried to discredit, we can’t try to find some common ground to ensure the public good of education is afforded equitably to all. If he is truly interested in understanding the validity of my points, instead of proving them wrong, we might have a productive meeting. I remain optimistic, but I am no fool.247-public

Time will tell if the “experts” on public education truly care about truly understanding the problems in order to find best solutions, or if they would rather continue to push the agendas for which their positions and paychecks depend. If these two gentlemen’s 1,200- and 600-word responses to the single MENTION of charter school legislation in my letter are any indication, I clearly struck a nerve. And as taxpayers and voters, that should make us ALL very concerned.

Gay Adelmann
Dear JCPS Co-Founder
JCPS Parent Advocate
NPE Charter Member
2014 GCIPL Fellow

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