I was serving on a panel at an evening event last week about the growth of privatization of education here in Ohio, when someone asked, “Why do parents grab at the chance to send their children to these schools? Most of them don’t do nearly as well academically as public schools.”
People speculated about the lure of the freedom to choose and the conversation wandered a bit. But finally came a comment that stopped many of us: “Public schools can’t advertise, but all the voucher and charter schools advertise all the time, especially the cyber charters—Ohio Virtual Academy (K12) and the Electronic Classroom of Tomorrow.”
Hucksterism in education is the subject of a new piece by Ruth Conniff: The Sharks are Circling Our Public Schools. Ruth Conniff is the editor of The Progressive, a journal that champions the public good including a current project known as Public School Shakedown. The Progressive has recently merged with the Center for Media and Democracy which has persistently exposed the far right attack on the public good, including ALEC Exposed.
Conniff describes robocalls promoting Wisconsin vouchers. A woman’s voice describes, “free tuition to send your child to a private or religious school.” “We at School Choice Wisconsin are proud to pay for this call, because we want the very best for you and your child.” The calls, writes Conniff, are coming in the midst of the application process for Wisconsin’s new statewide voucher program.
Conniff reports that School Choice Wisconsin is an arm of the American Education Reform Council (funded by John Walton) and the far right Bradley Foundation of Milwaukee. This spring Americans for Prosperity, the Koch brothers’ PAC, has also been sponsoring pro-voucher events across Wisconsin.
Cyber charters are advertising across Wisconsin right now, too. Conniff describes postcards (with gorgeous photos of adolescents at scho0l) being mailed during Wisconsin’s e-school open enrollment season. She notes that cyber schools do not, as pictured, educate students with their peers in a brick and mortar building, and, “According to the state’s school report cards for the 2012-2013 academic year, half of the children in virtual schools were attending one that was not meeting performance expectations.”
Conniff concludes: “So as parents are sorting the mail and checking messages and hearing about all these great choices you can make—free tuition! flexible! individualized learning! laptop provided!—keep in mind that you are paying for these businesses with the money that used to sustain our public schools. They are still performing better than all of these new, alternative options.”
Check out Public School Shakedown and ALEC Exposed and the other great investigative journalism at The Progressive. What is happening in public education in Wisconsin is very likely also relevant in your state. Vouchers. Charters. The impact of the American Legislative Exchange Council on your legislature. Public School Shakedown even has a new project: Teach for America Truth Squad.