The toughtest task for a daily newspaper — especially a small, cash-strapped one — is to fill the Monday morning news hole. Little or no staff over the weekend; a shortage of easy stories, like public meetings, official releases, and news conferences. So I can sympathize with the folks at the Bennington Banner for seizing on a story with a grabby header: Vermont ranks near the bottom in a national ranking of “parental input” into their children’s education.
Or, as the Banner ineptly put it:
Vermont recently ranked 45th out of the 51 states and Washington D.C. in a report designed to rank states based on how much power parents have over their childrens’ education.
Hey, congratulations to Puerto Rico! I guess they achieved statehood while nobody was looking.
There’s also the small matter of the double-plural form of “children.” But that’s not why I’m writing.
Why I’m writing is that the Banner swallowed, hook line and sinker, a bogus “study” from an ersatz “reform” group, the Center for Education Reform, which is part of the American Legislative Exchange Center (ALEC) web of innocuously-named astroturf organizations. And whose governing board is loaded with high-profile proponents of for-profit and charter schools.
If the Banner had spent two minutes on The Google, it could have uncovered that extremely relevant information, instead of regurgitating CER’s pregurgitated propaganda.
But really, you didn’t even need to go that far to realize that something was rotten in Denmark. Just take a gander at CER’s four — count ’em, four — criteria for evaluating parental input, thoughtfully entitled the Parent Power Index:
School choice, charter schools, online learning, and teacher quality.
Okay, the first two are gimmies. The only form of parental “input” recognized by CER is whether parents can choose their kids’ schools. Which kinda-sorta ignores the most important kinds of parental input available at every public school: teacher conferences, interactions with administrators, school board meetings, and school board elections.
See, public schools are, well, “public.” And members of the public can have just about as much input as they choose to have. Most teachers and administrators welcome parental involvement in their children’s education. And in my years covering school board meetings, I’ve seen countless examples of boards bending over backwards to accommodate the squeaky wheels among their constituencies.
If your idea of “parental input” is limited to one single act of choice, not unlike going to Walmart to buy a new microwave, then I feel sorry for your children. But that’s how CER sees it.
The other two criteria sound more benign, but not when you read the fine print.
“Teacher quality” isn’t a measurement of, oh, the actual quality of a state’s teachers. It amounts to this: Are there state-mandated annual teacher evaluations? Are tenure and retention tied to those evaluations?
In other words, have the teachers’ unions been whipped into subservience?
As for the fourth, “online learning,” CER advocates the availability of “a full-time online caseload.” Which is great, if you want your kid’s education supplied by the University of Phoenix or some other for-profit scam artist.
I’m not saying there’s no place for online learning in K-12 education. But is it really one of the four pillars of “parental input”? No freakin’ way.
In short, this CER report is pure ALEC-style horse hockey. And the Banner should be ashamed of itself for uncritically serving it up to its readers.