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Elizabeth Warren’s old-school education plan is a teachers’ union dream

CER IN THE NEWS
Washington Examiner
October 22, 2019

Elizabeth Warren issued a stark return to the past in her education plan released Monday. Much anticipated, the plan is more than reminiscent of the old initiatives that led the country to a massive decline in educational attainment that we’ve only recently begun to reverse.

Her leading supporters in the teachers' unions cheered. Randi Weingarten of the militant American Federation of Teachers called the plan boosting federal involvement in education and attacking charter schools “transformational.” Her praise is being rewarded with a visit by Warren to the Chicago picket lines where hundreds of public school teachers were forced to strike and 300,000 students have no choice but to be out of school.

But more than 95% of charter school teachers are not part of unions and they will not strike. Charter schools are public schools that are free from the oppressive bureaucracy that caused U.S. education to go from the envy of the world to near last place in virtually all international assessments. They give parents a choice over schools that are diverse in design, educational program, size, focus, and location.

Charter schools introduced the concept of making public education responsive and accountable to its constituents, requiring schools to attract families, rather than families having no choice but to attend their zoned public school.

Freedom and performance-based accountability are the hallmarks of charter schools, and those attributes were quickly copied by open-minded public school leadership who realized if they didn’t change, they’d go out of business.

Even Warren in 2003 recognized the ill fate of children whose families have no options when she endorsed not just public forms of school choice like charter schools but even more expansive choice for private schools. “Fully funded vouchers,” she said, “would relieve parents from the terrible choice of leaving their kids in lousy schools or bankrupting themselves to escape those schools.”

One would think that in the ensuing 16 years she would have seen first-hand how right she was, and that cities from Los Angeles to Washington to Boston have actually been transformed by new, innovative education models.

Harvard University professor Thomas Kane found that amid the empirical progress made by charter schools in Massachusetts just over one year, “the oversubscribed charter schools in the Boston area are closing one half of the Black-White achievement gap in math and roughly one fifth of the Black-White achievement gap in English.”

But no. Warren wants those schools to go out of business. Those charter schools have given low-income children opportunities for success their parents never would be able to afford and drawn middle-class families back to public education and communities they once fled. Warren’s plan takes us backward, to a time when our education system was described by the National Commission on Excellence in Education as a mile wide and an inch deep.”

“We might well have viewed it as an act of war,” said the same report in documenting the educational mediocrity of the day.

Warren says we need to investigate and regulate the very charter schools that turned mediocrity on its head. She says they need to be part of the failed district system, unionized and that we need to double the amount of federal funds we spend on education — to what end, we don’t know. Less than 50% of federal money ever actually reaches schools, and of that most doesn’t make it to the classroom, but that’s another article altogether.

How about investigating why the greatest country on earth still forces 80% of children to attend a public school based on their zip code, whether it’s working for them, whether it’s safe, whether it has failed, whether there is corruption — just because that’s the way we’ve always done it, no matter what that child needs, what kind of exceptionalities they have, and what would really help them build a great future.

The Warren Model looks like Chicago, where she will be on Tuesday, linking arms with a radical leftist labor movement that celebrates uniformity, squashes differentiation and merit, eschews innovation, and wants no freedom for anyone in education.

In 1987, Chicago was called the worst education system in the nation. There was no place to go but up. Dedicated leaders began tackling failing schools, but their efforts were fought at every turn by the teachers' unions who pushed back on performance pay for teachers, firing ineffective personnel, restructuring, and myriad other proposals that were met with union-driven legislative defeat year after year. Charter schools came to Chicago and gave educational innovators the tools they needed to show that all kids can learn. Achievement began to rise, but that didn’t stop the union from working overtime to unionize charters, taking away their autonomy to succeed.

Despite modest progress, Chicago students are less than 30% proficient in all core subjects. University of Illinois’ Steve Tozer says: “Our African-American students are well ahead of where they were a decade ago, but that we’re not seeing that level of growth sustained. ... There’s real concern ... about what do principals and what do teachers need to do to address this potential plateauing of African-American students.”

Concern? We should be horrified over an education system that has failed most of our children for decades. Educational opportunities have provided a lifeboat to millions of children whose states adopted bipartisan charter school laws and educational scholarship programs. Federal efforts to tie funding streams to performance reversed decades of federal subsidies for failure. Now Warren wants us to forget all the progress and ignore the intricate link between freedom and excellence.

Warren’s prescriptions are dated and will cause harm. She wants us to solidify one singular approach to education, while the research and science underscore the importance of diversity in teaching, pedagogy, and curriculum delivery.

That’s is how charter schools have contributed to the advancement of education and turned around decades of failure. They introduced us to what can happen when educators are free to innovate and able to be both responsive and accountable directly by the families they serve.

That’s why Elizabeth Warren wants charter schools gone. As long as charters exist, unions cannot wholly control the levers. If they and the rest of the education blob have their say, parents will not. The choice is that simple.

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