It’s not like it is difficult to find startling hypocrisy in what passes for public policy debates these days, but the battle over public education seems especially rife with maddening examples, most of them around the notion of accountability, that teachers and schools should be held to high standards and measurable results for the public dollars they use.
That’s the idea behind the increasingly controversial Common Core State Standards developed by education consultants with help from governors and school officials around the country. Former Florida Governor Jeb Bush is a leading proponent of Common Core and North Carolina Governor Pat McCrory supports it too.
It is all about accountability, making sure all students are learning and that taxpayers are getting their money’s worth out of their investment. Common Core raises the bar for what students must learn in math and language arts.
And there’s nothing inherently wrong with higher standards or accountability, though there are legitimate questions about the testing requirements of Common Core and how the tests were created.
But interestingly Bush and McCrory and other conservative governors touting Common Core seem to forget their accountability demands when it comes to taxpayer money flowing to private and religious schools under the voucher scheme that both governors support.
A recent Politico story found that taxpayers in 14 states are spending almost a billion dollars this year in tuition at private academies and religious schools, many of which teach fundamentalist religious doctrines like creationism in place of science, telling students that the earth is less than 10,000 years old and that humans co-existed with dinosaurs.
North Carolina’s voucher scheme, now on hold while the courts consider lawsuits challenging its constitutionality, includes no standardized testing requirements for the private schools to allow parents or education officials to see how the students and schools are performing and how taxpayer money is being spent.
There is no Common Core required in private schools. There are few requirements at all for private schools to be eligible to receive public money, not even the adoption of anti-discrimination policies. Many of them openly discriminate against gay students and students with gay parents. Many refuse to accept children with disabilities or special needs.
And it’s not just true with voucher schools. Many elected officials seem to forget their accountability talking point when it comes to charter schools too, which are actual public schools. State lawmakers keep pushing for fewer requirements for charters and less accountability.
The common refrain from voucher supporters about the lack of accountability is that parents themselves are the accountability system, that they won’t send their children to private schools that don’t provide a quality education. The problem is they already do.
That’s why the schools that teach bizarre religious theories instead of science already exist. It’s why schools that are not required to administer national tests to see how their students are doing are already operating. School officials don’t seem to want to know how their students are doing.
Parents with students at the questionably run private academies have no idea how what their children are learning compares to what students are learning in other schools.
Lindsay Wagner with NC Policy Watch has reported that close to 100 of the 700 schools that may be eligible to receive a voucher in North Carolina have less than 10 students, many with only one or two teachers.
There’s no accountability there now. Spending public money to send more kids to the shady schools won’t change that. It won’t miraculously force the school officials to adopt high standards and start teaching actual science in the science classrooms.
It will mean less accountability for public dollars in education, something the conservatives were for—except in this case when they are against it.