School Choice is Neither the Silver Bullet Nor a Con

It's an Essential Step to Education Reform
Unsplash, Piret Ilver

Another day, another Twitter debate.

Several populist-leaning education accounts have spent the last week claiming that school choice, because of the amount of government money that would (likely, depending on your state) follow students or private options, is a con-game. Similarly, several school choice advocates from organizations like CATO claim that school choice is the answer to everything—an instant fix to any educational woe.

Neither of these are true, and they both suffer from the same blanket-sweeping disease.

School choice is not a magical solution to cure the problems of intersectionality, usually in the form of racism or sexualized-gender ideology, in many of the United States’ classrooms. Teachers and principals that necessitate progressive politics in one classroom can just as easily teach it in another. Charter schools can just as easily teach “woke” curricula and pedagogy as a public zip-code-locked school system.

School choice alleviates part of the forced-woke problem because it opens up opportunities for parents to leave those hyper-progressive environments and seek new ones that fit their family’s values. The funds that the state currently withholds for public schools would be allowed to flow to other educational institutions (or students themselves, depending on the policy proposal), and hopefully, new programs that would provide a better educational environment. The ending vision is a picture of meritocratic capitalism, in which good services receive students and funding, thus thriving, while bad services would dry up and close, to be replaced by the desire for better services—with the funding to do so.

Populist arguments suggest that states having control over funding of any sort in education taints the dollars to influence statist policy before they leave the treasury. This isn’t entirely without merit. In Indianapolis Public Schools, I worked with several “innovation” schools—charters that, because they were using state and district funds, used the same hyper-progressive curriculum and racist pedagogy the rest of the schools in IPS used.

This is a great example of why school choice isn’t a silver bullet. If all of the schools in my area are using state (and/or local district) funds, and are therefore required to use state academic (and pedagogy/methodology) standards—the result will be the same intersectionality and mediocrity that plagues public schools.

None of this means school choice, as a movement and general policy proposal, is a con.

There is a trend in populism to take either/or thinking to the extreme. If school choice isn’t the ultimate answer, then it must be a method by our enemies to give states the authority to control private environments. Others have pulled Mussolini’s quote about corporatism into the mix—because it wouldn’t be a nonsensical Twitter education debate without WWII-era fascism references.

The biggest boons to the “school choice is a con” theory are the fallacy of Einsteining political foes and the multiplicity of school choice policy proposals.

First, it’s laughable to suggest that establishment Republicans and hyper-progressives are secretly hatching a “woke plot” to use school choice to enforce indoctrination. This is a level of 4D chess that I have yet to see at any statehouse. Much of the supporters of woke-progressive policy genuinely (often religiously) believe that their solutions benefit children. Establishment republicans, similarly, believe that regulated school choice maintains a level of professionalism and exceptionalism in their state’s education programs. Both are wrong without being Marxist masterminds.

Second, school choice policy proposals come in more varieties than a Teen Vogue author’s pronouns. Everything from individual student education savings accounts (which would not necessitate a school using certain curricula or hiring certain staff), to very basic vouchers or charter-program allotments (which would do both). Populists would be much better served identifying which school choice programs are safe and which are fraught with concerns of overreach—not making the same blanket statements school choice purists make in reverse.

Suggesting school choice is a magical fix for everything is woefully childish. It ignores several real examples of parents left with no options as regulation from state licensure or academic and pedagogical standards have locked private choices.

Suggesting school choice is a con game is also blanket-sweeping petulance. It generalizes all policy as a monolithic, Orwellian plot, and makes perfect the enemy of the good.

School choice is a necessary step towards education reform. In an era in which your zip code determines what school you go to, what curriculum you receive, and with what pedagogy that material is taught—it is essential that we push towards deregulation of a failed system for students, parents, teachers, and administrators. Part of that push is freeing students. Part of that push is licensure reform. Part of that push is restricting a state’s ability to rubber-stamp curriculum.

I’m not usually one to wave the flag of nuance, but in the midst of the largest push for education reform in our nation’s history—such attention to detail could make the difference between beneficial legislation passing and failing.

Tony Kinnett
Tony Kinnett is the Co-Founder and Executive Director of Chalkboard Review. He is an award-winning science teacher, and the former science coordinator and head instructional coach for Indianapolis Public Schools, until he was fired for whistleblowing information concerning the school system's use of racist material. In February, he was appointed the director of the education nonprofit Choice Media, now Chalkboard Media.

The views expressed in this article are the opinion of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of the Chalkboard Review team.

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