Reason.com

Free Minds & Free Markets

Teachers Union Head Casts School Choice as Racism

Ethnically diverse Los Angeles boasts a population that's nearly half Latino, 10 percent Asian, and 10 percent African American. The metropolitan area is also home to the largest charter school program in the country. In May, Los Angeles voters put school choice supporters in charge of the Los Angeles Unified School District board, a show of support for parents' right to decide where to send their kids for an education.

In fact, demographic data across the United States show that charter schools are remarkably ethnically diverse. As of 2014, some 27 percent of the more than 3 million charter students nationwide were African American and 31 percent were Latino, according to Department of Education numbers.

So it would be more than a little disingenuous to attack school choice as a tool of racists. But that's exactly how American Federation of Teachers (AFT) President Randi Weingarten is responding to Education Secretary Betsy DeVos' push for more parental control.

In a speech before her union in July, Weingarten made an angry appeal to guilt by association: She argued that the idea of vouchers came from a desire to keep white children from associating with black children after the courts struck down segregation. Thus, she said, the very concept of school choice is tainted. "Make no mistake: The 'real pioneers' of private school choice were the white politicians who resisted school integration."

Arguing that DeVos' "preferred choices" of charter schools and tuition vouchers "don't work," Weingarten also insisted that privately operated schools are not accountable. But that's not true: they're accountable to parents, who can decide to stop sending their students there if they don't like what such schools are doing. The biggest incubators of school choice are not white strongholds but diverse metropolises such as Los Angeles and New York City.

The larger absurdity of Weingarten's speech is painting the powerful teachers union as a David fighting the Goliath of school choice advocates. The AFT made more than $20 million in political contributions in 2016 alone, clocking in as the 21st biggest donor out of more than 18,500, according to OpenSecrets.org. The real Davids are the parents themselves battling to establish control over the quality of their children's educations.

Photo Credit: subjug/iStockPhoto

Editor's Note: We invite comments and request that they be civil and on-topic. We do not moderate or assume any responsibility for comments, which are owned by the readers who post them. Comments do not represent the views of Reason.com or Reason Foundation. We reserve the right to delete any comment for any reason at any time. Report abuses.

  • Memory Hole||

    The real pioneers of private school choice were the white politicians who resisted integration.

    That's exactly how it went down in Louisiana. Racism still accounts for some private school enrollment and some public schools suck more than they might have otherwise sucked because of this racist past so the past does inform the present. I don't think you would see as great of a demand for school choice without this extremely toxic racist past and public schools wouldn't suck as bad had white families invested in their success. Acknowledging this doesn't mean people who advocate for choice today are guilty of racism but they may be sons of bitches if they don't at least acknowledge how racism played a role in the downfall of public education and the rise of private education.

  • Memory Hole||

    And of course my life experiences here in Louisiana inform my opinions and no doubt y'all have seen different shit. Private schools are preferred by practically everyone today so it ain't about race any longer for the most part.

  • Memory Hole||

    And at some point if enough of our public money in the form of vouchers is used to fund these private schools they become not so private any more.

  • Mike Laursen||

    I don't know Louisiana. In California, the history is that public school districting was used to create white-mostly schools.

  • John C. Randolph||

    And today in California, "bilingual education" is used to keep the hispanic kids away from the white kids.

    -jcr

  • C. S. P. Schofield||

    And most of that institutionalized racism was put in place by Democrats, speaking of memoty holes.

    The cols facts are that the Teachers' Unions don't have any facts on theirmside...that they dare invoke. "If school choice becomes reality I might actually have to work for a living" not being calculated to win hearts and minds.

    What the various officers and panjandrums of the Teachers' Unions need and deserve is a fifteen minute head start.

  • Scarecrow Repair & Chippering||

    Too many people forget, or never knew (government schools, after all, aren't going to brag much on their racist roots), that Plessey (1895) was government-imposed mandatory racism against a private railroad, and arguably its customers, who were happy with integrated railways and had to be forced into Jim Crow racism.

  • loveconstitution1789||

    Public schools were used to break Native American kids of their native tongues and of course Democrats used Jim Crowe laws to segregate schools.

  • CatoTheChipper||

    And most of that institutionalized racism was put in place by Democrats, speaking of memoty holes.

    Speaking of memory holes, most of that institutionalized racism was enforced in the South by the armed wing of the Democratic Party, a.k.a. the Ku Klux Klan.

    Also fallen into a memory hole is the fact that opposition to private schools originated with anti-Catholic Democrats and Klansmen (see, for example, Oregon Compulsory Education Act).

  • MarkLastname||

    I don't really care a shit for your anecdotes. If this is the best you can come up with then the poverty and disingenuousness of the pro-union position are more obvious than I thought.

  • JFree||

    I agree. And one of the problems as I see it is that we still have one of the remnants of what enabled much of that racism. We used to have individual school management in almost the entire country. Local education was never supported in the South for a few reasons dating back to the original land grants and statehood - but that way of managing local schools would have been the best way to deal with issues of race/class at the same pace that neighborhoods themselves could deal with residential segregation.

    Instead, the South and New England (for different reasons) went to the 'school district' model in the late 19th century. And what that does is take management of education out of the hands of local parents, homeowners, 'volunteer school board' types - and move it into the hands of 'professionals'/pols/etc. The rest of the country then went to that model in the 1950's with the one-time explosion of suburbs. But its pretty clear that that district model has failed to improve education - and worse it has eliminated any commitment to 'fix the infrastructure that we already have'.

    School choice is just another useless idea that avoids solving the underlying problem. We need to restore individual school management and weaken the higher level impositions that have proven that they don't work.

  • Sidd Finch v2.01||

    I don't think you would see as great of a demand for school choice without this extremely toxic racist past and public schools wouldn't suck as bad had white families invested in their success.

    - Racism tisk tisk

    - Public schools need white people.

  • CatoTheChipper||

    The real pioneers of private school choice were the white politicians who resisted integration. That's exactly how it went down in Louisiana. Racism ... public schools wouldn't suck as bad had white families invested in their success.

    Then why do public schools suck everywhere, and not just in Louisiana and the Deep South?

    And, why did Clinton and Obama send their kids to Sidwell Friends rather than a nearby D.C. government school?

  • Sevo||

    Repost for a re-thread:

    "As Parents Get More Choice, S.F. Schools Resegregate"
    [...]
    "A majority of families may be satisfied with the outcome, but the student assignment system is failing to meet its No. 1 goal, which the San Francisco Unified School District has struggled to achieve since the 1960s: classroom diversity."
    http://sfpublicpress.org/news/.....esegregate

    Ignoring the fact that the N0. 1 goal should be educating the kids, the gov't schools don't seem to be doing so hot, either,

  • loveconstitution1789||

    The public school system has dumbed down kids by the millions over the last 30-40 years and hopefully the school choice change alters that. Unfortunately, it will still take years, possibly decades, before America sees the smarting up of kids leaving these new schools that value education.

  • Elias Fakaname||

    The democrats certainly want to prevent that.

  • GILMORE™||

    [x] Casts [y] as Racism

    there's a lot of that going around

  • AlmightyJB||

    She's actually behind the times. It's not Racists! anymore it's Nazis! Must not have received memo.

  • Jerryskids||

    So it would be more than a little disingenuous to attack school choice as a tool of racists.

    Disingenous's got nothing to do with it, "racist" is just a verbal tic like "sexist", it means absolutely nothing. You get into an argument with anybody over anything and the left breaks out the racist and sexist the same way anybody else breaks out fat-ass, ugly, or retard.

  • Michael Ejercito||

    I wonder if this overuse of the word "racism" will incite people to question what is wrong with racism in the first place.

  • MarkLastname||

    Or, per the Streisand effect, to examine more closely what it even means.

  • Sports Reporter Charles Manson||

    If we're applying guilt by association, what about the fact that many states operated racially-separate government school systems for decades?

    Going back before that, what about the fact that the states formerly operated government schools *only* for whites, while anyone caught teaching a black slave to read went to prison?

    Somehow, government schooling as such isn't tainted with guilt by association.

    And while I can certainly agree that in states where the whites were used to white-only government schools, many of them turned to white-only private schools once the government schools were ordered to be integrated. And that apparently taints *all* school choice with guilt by association.

    Even nonwhite parents today whose motivation for supporting school choice is a desire for better education - they're tainted with guilt by association, too.

  • Sports Reporter Charles Manson||

    Apparently, it's not enough to have equality before the law, and to stop racial discrimination by all government agencies - every white parent must be presumed to be a racist who is reeling from the impact of Brown v. Board of Education and plotting and scheming, above all things, to give their children a monoracial education regardless of any academic benefit.

    Well, *rich* white parents aren't presumed racist, they should be able select a private or public school with just the right racial mix for their child. And their choices are based on academic factors exclusively!

    But parents who can't afford to opt out of the system? They're all racists, they don't care if Johnny can read so long as he can be sent to a segregated school.

    That's how you're viewed, poor and middle-class parents. If you're allowed to select your kid's school, you'll just base your decision on racism. Even if you're black you're guilty by association with white racists.

  • Unicorn Abattoir||

    Weingarten is screaming racism because she's out of rational arguments against charter schools.

    It seems to me that the AFT and NEA are fighting a rearguard action at this point. Education is going to change, whether they like it or not. From charters to online schools, elementary/secondary education is changing. I don't know what it will look like in the future, but it won't be the assembly line system in place throughout public school systems today.

  • Sports Reporter Charles Manson||

    At some point they'll get wise and coopt the movement:

    "OK, we endorse charter schools and vouchers, all we ask is for some fairness - charter and voucher schools will just have to meet one or two little regulations about teacher tenure, diversity, anti-bullying education...here, this is a modest list of proposed regulations...bring the forklift over here..."

  • Marty Comanche||

    Mic drop. Thread over. The entire article could have just been the first sentence here.

  • Longtobefree||

    But "historically black" colleges are special and should get their own racist pass?
    All the union is against is schools without union dues paying teachers. Period.

  • esteve7||

    Make no mistake, the union hack can fuck off. She is responsible for more generational misery of monorities than the KKK could ever hope to achieve

  • jenny rao||

    You can look for this website that can madden mobile hack for free online when you want to get the coins for free online.

GET REASON MAGAZINE

Get Reason's print or digital edition before it’s posted online