Thursday, August 21, 2014

Birds of a Feather Flock Together: ECI’s Very Partisan ‘Bi-Partisan’ Policy Advisory Board

Educational Choice Illinois (ECI) is “a 501c3 public charity, dedicated to advancing public policy that expands quality educational options for Illinois children in need” that recently released an announcement celebrating the creation of its “bipartisanPolicy Advisory Board.  Their board, 31 members in total, is tasked with “[assisting] ECI in setting its policy agenda” in addition to meeting with community leaders, legislators, participating in outreach, etc.

What is especially interesting about the Board is its composition.  While ECI reports that the Board is “bipartisan,” it is clear that those who sit on the Board are far from bipartisan when it comes to educational policy.  Of the 31 members, at least 23 work for organizations/think-tanks that are overtly in favor of pro-privatization education reforms (e.g., charter schools, vouchers, etc.), and none are known skeptics.  Of the other 8 members, their history or current position on reform cannot be readily ascertained.  Though, as a lobbyist, Vince Williams – who is among the 8 – is likely to advocate for the majority opinion of the Advisory Board – which, in this case, is predominately comprised of pro-privatization ideologues.  Thus, given the history of pro-privatization activities from the members of this Board, one must ask if it was their disposition — as opposed to, say, expertise on the issue — that was ultimately the litmus test for their participation.

In ECI’s promotional video, Myles Mendoza (Executive Director) states that, “[ECI] is a group that really thinks very, very differently about education.  What we care about most are the interests of children, plain and simple.”  Given the composition of its Advisory Board, it becomes clear that ECI does not think “very, very differently” among itself since almost all of its members have a history of advocating for pro-privatization reforms.  In their video, Lisa Graham Keegan (ECI Board member and Chair of the National Association of Charter School Authorizers) states, “I’m a big fan of watching how geese fly because they fly in formation and they take that one goose out in front who takes the brunt and to let that goose in front take them where they need to go, it’s very clear to me that Illinois is head goose here.  And you’re going to hear a lot of honking from a lot of places but you’re going to take us where the rest of the country is going to go.”

In the case of ECI, the goose out front is its new Policy Director Joshua Dwyer.  Dwyer, in his former role at the free-market oriented Illinois Policy Institute, advocated for lifting the charter school cap, increasing online learning, and expanding school vouchers.  Operating under the assumption that market-based school reforms are the panacea of the supposed “crisis” in public education, Dwyer — with masters degrees in public policy and journalism — purported that “the main goal of any reforms should be to allow students in Chicago’s lowest-performing elementary and high schools to leave their schools immediately.”  That is, education reform ought not attempt at mending areas of public schooling that need to be addressed; rather, the goal of any reform ought to lead to an abandoning of local public schools – as opposed to addressing the school-based or systemic issues that cause poor performance.

The assumption that schools fail due to a lack of competition and thereby create a dichotomy of “good” schools where students succeed and “bad” schools where students fall behind is the typical ideology and rhetoric of pro-privatization reformers.  Though, on the face of it, it is hypocritical to suggest that injecting market-competition reforms into schools will somehow create level playing fields and equitable outcomes.  By definition, competition requires winners and losers.

Thus, the “honking” that we will likely hear from ECI’s new Policy Advisory Board will all sound the same as they fly in formation towards privatizing education by promoting more charters and more vouchers – all of which “flies” in the face of real evidence.

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