Friday, March 16, 2018

Blowing (Up) Your Mind Trust

When I first wrote about Indianapolis's Mind Trust, it was because they were looking for New School Leaders on Twitter. When I started digging, what I discovered was not very heartening.

Mind Trust was launched in 2006 by David Harris, who voluntarily left the mayor's office to start it, and Bart Peterson, who would involuntarily leave the office of mayor the very next year.

Indiana had already started the charter school gravy train in 2001 by handing the reins of the Indianapolis school system to the mayor (that was Peterson) who promptly created an office for developing and launching charter schools (that was Harris). The Mind Trust was a next step, a way to work on what Harris called "stimulating supply." This meant connecting big money backers with charter entrepreneurs, pushing what the called "Opportunity Schools." Indianapolis became a reformster oasis, with generous donations to groups like Teacher for America, backed by folks like Education Reform Now (an arm of DFER) and Stand for Children.

The playbook by now is familiar-- declare public schools a terrible failure, take a bunch of money away from them, use it to plant baskets full of charter schools. Harris was a source of ridiculous commenst like "when you go to schools that have excellent test scores, they're not teaching to the test" and "when people say we're trying to privatize education, I really don't understand that." And then they proceeded to privatize the hell out of Indiana's school system.

Now Indiana has "Innovation Schools" which are schools operated on the Visionary CEO model, where one awesome guy gets to run a school unh9indered by all those dumb rules and things. Or as Mind Trust's Number 2 (soon to be Number 1) Brandon Brown:

We believe it’s critically important to have real, school level autonomy. We think it’s critical that you have an exceptional school leader in charge of that school

In other words, some Great Man of Vision who can hire and fire and pull policy out of his butt at will. The whole business is a hit with other reformsters:

“David Harris is one of the most thoughtful and pragmatic education leaders in the nation,” Neerav Kingsland, who leads K-12 education work for the Arnold Foundation, wrote in an email. “The partnership between Indianapolis Public Schools and The Mind Trust serves as a model of how school districts and non-profits can work together to get more kids into great schools.”

Kingsland is not just an Arnold Foundation guy-- he's also one of the architects of the post-Katrina mess in New Orleans. The mind of partnership is the kind you get when charter fans get control of a public school system so that stop resisting and actively cooperate with the charter attempt to gut them. The result-- almost half of Indianapolis students are in a charter school, and the public system is in trouble.

“I honestly think that if The Mind Trust … hadn’t been in Indianapolis over the past 10 or 11 years, that IPS would not be decimated and flailing like it is now,” said Chrissy Smith, a parent and member of the IPS Community Coalition, a local group that is critical of the current administration. “We would not see innovation schools coming in. We would not see the proliferation of charter schools.”

All of this matters because the Mind Trust is aiming to pursue the dream of all reform programs-- to scale up. Harris has been widely announced to be "stepping down," but that's not really accurate. As reformsters will, he is stepping up, ready to take the Mind Trust model national.

What will that actually mean? The Mind Trust model depends on

* piles of cash from the usual backers to help launch things
* new, friendly regulations
* and inside man or two who will get the public school system to roll over and let charter developers do as they wish
* visionary CEO style school leaders (with, obviously, no real education background)

That means the Mind Trust model will translate to some region better than others, plus there will be the added issue of established reformsters reacting to a new guy muscling in on their territory. Hard to say how this will fall out, but if you see David Harris headed for your neighborhood public school, it's time to be extra alert, because he is not there to help.

Thursday, March 15, 2018

10 Reasons To Support Public School

You may have missed the fact that this is National Public Schools Week, or you may have noticed it on Monday, but now it's Thursday and who can really remember these things for the entire week? And, of course, public schools do not have giant slick PR departments to create polished promotional materials for such a week. You might think that the United States Department of Education might make some noise-- any noise-- in support of public education, but over the past couple of decades, the department has moved from uninterested in public education over to openly hostile toward it.

Public education has become a political orphan in this country. So it's important to take the time to remember why US public education is actually a great thing. Here are some reasons.

1) Public schools are student-centered.

In many countries, public education is simply a system for telling children what they get to be when they grow up. Does Pat want to be a doctor, a lawyer or a civil engineer? Too bad-- the school system has determined that Pat should be an elevator repair person, and so that's what Pat gets to do.

But in our system, Pat gets to chart a course and the public school system is obliged to help Pat steer in that direction. Our system is not created to whip up a batch of employees for businesses, and it's not set up to tell Pat what the future is supposed to hold. It is set up to allow, aid and support Pat in making Pat's own choices.

2) Public schools are publically owned and operated.

The local taxpayers fund schools and elect the people who will run them. The taxpayers own the buildings and pay the salaries of the people who work in them. That means that public schools, unlike any other private business, cannot be gutted and squeezed for profit at the expense of a long, sustainable life (like, say, Toys R Us). That also means that the taxpayers get to ask any questions they like and know anything they want to know about how their money is being spent.

3) Public schools are enduring community institutions.

While some charters and private schools may just close down on a moment's notice, public schools are an enduring part of their community, remaining even if it's not profitable for them to stay open. In many communities, public schools are one of the most stable institutions.

And people believe in them. Yes, people grouse and complain, and yes people want their school taxes to be roughly $1.50. But when it's time to do something to help children. to improve their lives, to make them better able to cope with one problem or another, who do we always turn to? Public schools. Even when public schools fail an entire community, we don't hear demands like "Well, just release our children from any requirement to go to school at all." No-- people demand that they get the public schools they are supposed to have.

4) Public schools are responsible for all students, no matter what.

A public school system cannot pick and choose its students. It has a responsibility, both moral and legal, to provide an education to every student, even the ones who are difficult or expensive to teach.  It's easier to educate just some students, to pick and choose the ones you'd like to work with, the ones that barely need you at all. But to educate every single child is a far bolder and broader mission-- and it's the one we've given to public schools.

5) Public schools are the last great salad.

So much of current society is sorted and gated, with people making sure they associate only with the people they want to associate. There is certainly plenty of sorting of neighborhoods and communities that is manifested in community schools-- but public schools still feature the kind of mixing and interaction that we no longer see anywhere else in our country.

6) Public schools are a glorious mess.

Because public schools represent and respond to the interests of so many different people, those schools are messy. Many varied programs, teachers, activities, and classes all exist under one roof. It can seem unfocused and scatter-shot, but that's the beauty of it; the alternative is a regimented, orderly approach that squelches variety and outliers, and that approach benefits nobody.

7) Public schools are remarkably efficient.

Strapped for resources, public school systems must make every dollar count. There are no $500 toilet seats in public school restrooms, no $250 pencils in classrooms, and few districts that run twelve different buildings where one will do.

8) Public schools are staffed by trained professionals who devote their lives to the work.

It sucks that teachers aren't paid like rock stars, but we can say this-- nobody is in teaching just for the money, glory and fame. Nobody is hating the classroom but thinking, "Well, I still need to make enough money for a second Lexus." Public school teachers are neither martyrs nor saints, but they are in the classroom because they want to be there.

9) Public schools help create citizens

That's no small thing. s noted above, many educational systems simply aspire to create functional employees-- and that's it. A little vocational training, and out the door you go. But for democracy (or a republic style version thereof) to survive and flourish, you need a nation of educated people.

10) The promise of public education

By now, you have already talked back to this piece, telling your screen about all the exceptions you can think of, all the ways that public schools failed at the eight traits I listed above. And you're right-- public schools have failed in many ways over the decades, from the failure of institutional racism to the failure to fully embrace every single child. In our large and varied history, we have fallen short many times.

But here's the thin. You can only fall short of a goal if you have a goal. US public schools aspire to do great things, which means every day of every year, we are trying to rise and advance, to improve and grow. In this, we are truly American-- this country started by setting high standards and goals for itself, and it has spent centuries trying to live up to them. But if our goals were simply "I want to make myself rich" or "I want to have power over Those People" then we would have no hope of improving. If public schools set goals like "Just try to turn a profit this quarter" or "Get high scores on that one test" then we would have no hope, no prospect for greatness ever.

Our dream is to provide every single child with the support and knowledge and skills and education that will allow each to pursue the life they dream of, to become more fully themselves, to understand what it means to be human in the world. We do not always live up to that dream, but US public schools have lifted up millions upon millions of students, elevated communities, raised up a country.

So take a moment this week to honor and acknowledge National Pubic Schools Week. And if you have two moments, use one to send a message to your elected representatives, asking them to acknowledge this week as well. 

Tuesday, March 13, 2018

DeVos: Made Up of Individuals

I didn't want to cover that damnable 60 Minutes speech any further, but I need to make this point because all the folks who are just pointing and saying "Har har! DeVos is so dumb!" are really missing a crucial point.

I'm talking about this specific quote from the interview:

I hesitate to talk about all schools in general because schools are made up of individual students attending them.

And we can set this one, in response to the question about disparate and racist responses to student misbehavior, right next to it:

Arguably, all of these issues or all of this issue comes down to individual kids. And--
 --it does come down to individual kids. And--often comes down to-- I am committed to making sure that students have the opportunity to learn in an environment that is conducive to their learning.

Regular DeVos watchers recognize the ideas expressed here. These statements are clumsy and awkward, but they are not stupid-- they are an attempt to frame her policy choices in language that is consistent with what she has in mind.

DeVos has consistently said that she favors individuals over institutions, and she has tried to frame all her discussion of education in terms of individual students. Take this construction:

Well, we should be funding and investing in students, not in school-- school buildings, not in institutions, not in systems.

Why say something like that over and over?

Because it plays better than saying, "We should defund public schools."

Why keep making these ridiculous responses about individual students instead of looking at the system?

For the same reason that government officials are forbidden to say "global warming." For the same reason that the use (or non-use) of the phrase "radical Islam" became a hot-button issue.

DeVos hesitates to talk about all schools in general because she if she did, she would have to acknowledge that they exist, and she doesn't want to-- she wants to frame education as something that has to do with individual students and not with taxpayers and not with education professionals and certainly not with the public schools that she would like to get rid of. She is saying very plainly that families and students are going to be on their own, and if that means, for instance, that black kids get unfairly hammered by whatever rules are in place, oh well, that's too bad.

She would like to rhetorically erase the idea of funding public schools and a public school system because she would like to actually erase the practice itself.

Yes, her attempts to reframe the issues of education are clumsy, partly because, stripped of her checkbook powers, she is a terrible, terrible persuader. And mostly because her idea is a really dumb idea, and rhetorical tricks will only get you so far when you're trying to sell a really dumb idea.

But it's not a set-up for a joke.

On the one hand, I'm glad that the mainstream has finally noticed some of these issues (seriously-- I'm glad folks were struck by the whole "taking money away from struggling schools is kind of dumb" thing, but some of us have been saying it for twenty years). But on the other hand I feel like I'm watching people who are being told by an assailant, "I am going to punch your children in the face" and people are reacting like this is a hilarious joke, but not, really, that assailant is really getting ready to punch your children in the face, and he just told you he's going to do it, and maybe you should do something other than make jokes about it.

CA: DFER "All-Star" Running for Governor

Whitney Tilson is the hedge fund guy behind Democrats for Education Reform (DFER), a reform-backing group that is only sort of technically Democratic. Tilson sends out a regular newsletter, and in the most recent edition, he beats the drum for California gubernatorial candidate Antonio Villaraigosa.

This guy.
Villaraigosa is a former Los Angeles mayor. In Tilson's letter, DFER calls Villaraigosa "a bonafide DFER all-star" and touts his impeccable "ed reform credentials."

As Mayor, he sought mayoral control over Los Angeles' schools, and used his platform to take responsibility over a large subset of the City’s failing schools including those in South Los Angeles, Watts and East Los Angeles.

So he's helped out reformsters with some real estate grabs. And then there's this:

Importantly, given that Mayor Villaraigosa served for years as an organizer for the local teachers' unions, he continues to be one of the only leaders in the country who can speak against inequities in education with the credibility of being a pro-union Democrat who once represented members of the unions he is now holding accountable.

While it's true that Villaraigosa used his union work to launch his political career, he may have singed that bridge a bit when he called the LA teachers union "the largest obstacle to creating quality schools." Villaraigosa has picked fights with any number of unions in LA; I'm not so sure the "pro-union" hat fits pretty well, but Villaraigosa is a fine example of what Slate was talking about when it wrote the headline "Betsy DeVos Didn’t Say Anything in Her Viral Clip That Democrats Haven’t Supported for Years."

When Eli Broad tried to launch a plan to privatize half of the LA Unified School District, Villaraigosa was there to offer his vocal support.  And while Tilson may want to label Voillaraigosa pro-union, the candidate himself makes it a point to paint the teachers union as his enemy. Because, I guess, being anti-teacher is one way to earn political and financial capital in these races. Oh-- he would like tenure to be harder to get as well.

Bottom line: California, like DFER, New York, Connecticut and a few other locales, is a place where many Democrats are largely indistinguishable from Republicans when it comes to public education. For the moment, California Democrats have some choices for governor. We'll have to wait and see if anyone emerges who wants to actually stand up for public education, or if California will be one more place where public education becomes a political orphan.

Monday, March 12, 2018

DeVos In This World

By this time, everyone in the education world, or even the world next door, has heard about Betsy DeVos's appearance on 60 Minutes being grilled by Lesley Stahl. Unfortunately, most of this morning's coverage seems to focus on roasting her for being an uneducated twit. I recommend folks look a little more closely at what she's saying. Ready for just one more take on this?

In the widely reposted exchange from the interview, DeVos is pressed on the results of her meddling in Michigan, where she got pretty much everything she wanted, and schools statewide have suffered because of it. DeVos tried to hold up Florida as an example of success.

Neither state is an example of success by any conventional education measures. Michigan, which has had the most DeVosuian influence, is an educational disaster area. Florida just earned a low ranking in US K-12 education. 

People look at this disconnect and think, "Well, only a dope could think that these policies actually helped these states. Betsy DeVos must be a dope."

I think the conclusion that she's a dope is a mistake.

Here's another theory. Let's assume that getting a good education to every child is not a goal. Let's assume instead that the goal is to have education functioning on the free market, free of public institutions and government meddling. Let's assume that seeing some businesses prosper and profit is further proof that the market is working properly. Let's assume that directing public money to religious schools at the expense of government programs is a desirable and commendable outcome. In fact, let's assume that in such a system, having some schools and students sink to the bottom is a desirable outcome, because the free market is supposed to reward the deserving and allow the undeserving to sink to the low level where they belong. And if gutting public education has the effect of gutting unions and taking power away from those damn Godless Democrats, well, that's only right, too.

If we assume those things, then Michigan and Florida are unqualified successes.

So you can assume that DeVos calls these states a success because she's a dope, or you can listen to what she's telling you about her goals, which is that those states have come close to achieving them.

The interview includes a clip of someone calling out her wealth, and there's the usual speaking against the idea of federal overreach (by which she seems to mean "reach") including the now-characteristic insistence that certain bad things shouldn't happen in school, but it's not the government's place to do anything about it. Nor is she ever going to really acknowledge systemic racism. The most charitable read for that last one is that she just doesn't get it; the least charitable read is that DeVos is simply racist herself (those black kids wouldn't get in so much trouble if they didn't deserve to, because you know how they are).

And throughout the interview, there's that voice and that smile. That same rictus of a smirk. What is up with that?

I have a thought.

Any analysis of DeVos that doesn't factor in her religious views, her brand of Midwestern fundamentalism, is a mistake.

Looking at that smile, I was reminded of an old Christian admonition- "Be in this world, but not of this world."

It's a view that people of faith, people who have been elevated by a relationship with a personal Lord and Savior, do not actually belong in this dirty, debased world. The rules of this world cannot be their rules. To achieve Godly goals, they may have to use worldy tools, even pretend to go along with worldly rules, but this is stooping to achieve a higher purpose. God will even give His chosen tools (like earthly wealth and political power), but they must avoid being seduced by worldly things, including a desire for worldly acclaim and recognition. That means, among other things, that the Chosen don't owe these earthly, debased, going-to-hell persons an explanation. You can be in the world with these people, and maybe feel sorry for them, but there is no need to connect with them-- you are almost like two separate species, passing each other for a brief moment as you travel to two separate destinations, you to eternal glory in Heaven, and they to endless damnation in Hell.

So you smile. You smile hard, because it shows that you're still better than they are, and that you haven't stooped to their level. You smile even as they say mean things about you, because if the people of this world mount powerful forces against you, it's just further proof that you are right (and they are wrong). In fact, you are so right, and so sure of it, that real conversations with them aren't necessary because what could you learn from people who are so low and earthly and wrong? But you go through the motions to show that you're the bigger person, and because sometimes worldly tools must be used to achieve divine goals. You smile.

Betsy DeVos's smile is the smile of Dolores Umbrage or the Church Lady. It's an angry, flinty smile, a smile that says, "I am in this world, but I am not of it, and some day I will rise above it and leave you behind."

I know, I know. I am engaging in more armchair psychiatrist than people who just skip straight to, "She's a dope." But when I look at her, I see a face that I saw dozens of times on the United Methodist Youth Fellowship circuit. I always wondered how those folks would grow up, and in most cases life beat them into a humbler, kinder shape. Betsy DeVos looks to me like how they would have grown up if they had been bubbled inside enough  wealth and privilege to convince them that they were right all along. There's no humility there, and no kindness, though I would bet that DeVos thinks she has kind thoughts about the rest of us, and I suppose she does, in the same way that some folks have kind thoughts about scraggly stray cats. But not only is she not of this world, but she hasn't been in it all that often.

I don't believe for a minute that DeVos is a dope. I think she's worked very hard at packaging her core beliefs, knowing that in this world you can't just say "Close all public schools, hand education over to religious schools, give everyone a voucher." You can't just say "There should be no collectives except the Church, and it should admit only those who deserve to be there." You can't just say, "Some people are supposed to be poor and miserable, because if you don't properly follow God's word, you're supposed to be poor and miserable." You can't just say, "My wealth is a sign from God that I have been anointed to do His work." You can't just say, "Your opposition to me just proves that Satan is mobilizing against me in this world." Your silence on all these matters is just a price of being in this world. But since you are not of this world, you won't have to pay that price forever.

If DeVos sometimes seems confused by questions asked by worldly interviewers and worldly Congressmen, it is in part because they are following a worldly script that she rejected back in her youth. If she seems confused, it may not be because she doesn't get it, but because she still can't quite understand why the rest of us don't get it.

Betsy DeVos is not a dope. I wish more people would see what she keeps putting right in front of our collective face. She has a vision of what education and government should look like, and if it seems that her vision is dangerous and damaging to the world, that does not matter to her, because this world is not her home.

Sunday, March 11, 2018

ICYMI: Lost Hour Edition (3/11)

It's another lovely Sunday, and here is some reading for the week. Remember-- only yu can amplify the voices that you believe should be heard.

Things Economists Should Start Saying

Jersey Jazzman takes a look at the kinds of "expert" analysis offered by economists about education.

Who Are the Data Unicorn Tech Giants

There's a lot to wade through here, but it's a good look at some of the connections within the race to monetize student data without getting bogged down by student consent.

When Big Data Goes To School

Alfie Kohn doesn't blog often, but when he does, it's always worth a read.

Teachers In Your State Are Underpaid

This Vox piece comes with a clickbaity title, but it's a pretty interesting batch of data about teacher salaries in every state.

10 Things We Shouldn't Expect Public Schools To Do

Nancy Flanagan passes on some observations from a friend about the expected roles of public schools. It's kind of stunning when you just lay it out in a list like this.

Teach Kids When They're Ready

Is there anything more consistently ignored in education then the fact that littles develop at the same pace they always have, no matter how hard we try to rush schooling?

Cost Benefits Show Failure of Voucher Plan

The Journal Gazette offers a direct and simple debunking of the Indiana voucher plan by using facts. Go figure. Once again, voucher systems turn out to be a way to channel public tax dollars to private religious schools.

Minneapolis Public School Hosts Teach for America Recruiting Event

In Minneapolis, another reminder of how TFA is the ground troops for spreading charter schools, and how some public systems have become complicit in their own destruction.

New Oklahoma Teacher Vows

A look at the super-secret vows that new Oklahoma teachers must, apparently, take when they go to work.

Saturday, March 10, 2018

AEI: Localism and Education

The American Enterprise Institute, a right-tilted, free market loving thinky tank, has put out a collection of essays organized around the topic of localism in America, and within that book is a brief-ish essay by Frederick Hess and Andy Smarick entitled "Localism and Education: Pluralism, Choice, and Democratic Control."

My town, in a somewhat earlier time

Hess and Smarick set out by connecting localism and pluralism, but also connect localism to the freedom "to forge lives and ties among those who share their beliefs and values" which is kind of.... not pluralism. They place public schools in that tradition of community endeavors launched by "responsible, civic-minded" citizens.

Indeed, given the role schools have historically played in binding together the fates of neighborhoods, fostering understanding and interdependency among neighbors, it is no great feat to understand why in so many communities school choice is seen as a threat rather than a boon. In short, two time-tested notions of localism are in tension: one rooted in liberty and free association and the other in the bonds of community.

And the "challenge for education reformers" is that their measure of the merits of different approaches has "become remarkably detached from that of many families, voters and communities."

I agree with this, mostly, except the word "become." In much of the modern ed reform movement, policies and initiatives have ben detached by design. Common Core was designed specifically to override local decisions and bring uniformity from community to community, state to state. Charter schools have been mostly run as private businesses with no actual local governance; who can forget Reed Hastings arguing that local school boards should be eliminated. The detachment from local concerns has always been baked right into reform. As it will turn out, Hess and Smarick don't really disagree with me.

Hess and Smarick admit there are mixed feelings, noting that localism is both "revered and reviled." Then they cite its "long and tangled history" as resulting in a hyper-local control that was "pragmatic, not just philosophical." Some of the conditions of localism, in Hess and Smarick's narrative, began to change:

--namely, explicit efforts to prize assimilation over diversity, the reduced role of churches in schooling, and the increased capacity of state and municipal government--

And this, they argue, led schools to become less local.

Brown v Board, they suggest, kick off a period of government control, based on the moral claim that some locales could not be trusted "to do right by all their students," and history certainly backs that up. And that set of moral reasons, many reformers over the past half-century have wanted to see les localism. Hess and Smarick identify three "camps" of anti-localism reformers.

Business and "Accountability" Republicans. These are the guys pushing standards-based reform and test-based accountability, because you can't trust the locals to get it right-- particularly when that damn teachers union gets involved and starts pushing back.

School Choice Advocates. These are the folks that see local schools as "bureaucratic monopolies" where students must be rescued from their zip code.

Democratic Reformers. Are there Progressives who "have come to see localism as little more than a problem to be solved"? Probably true, as long as there are Progressives who believe those rubes in the hinterlands will screw up standards, segregate like crazy, and try to screw over the poor neighborhoods.

I'm not sure I buy this taxonomy entirely, but their actual point is that despite a wide variety of reformsters who are out to kill localism, almost none have actually managed to end it.

Why, Hess and Smarick wonder, is it so hard to kill?

One, they note, is a sentimental attachment to local control and a belief that it offers "a bulwark against grand plans and far-off agendas." Hess and Smarick aren't going to dismiss this as a legit concern, "given the number and goofiness" of such plans that have been imposed on schools over the year.

But they also want us to consider one other pro-local force, and here they disappoint me, because we have arrived the long way around at the old argument that it's those damned champions of the status quo, those unions and administrators who have a vested interest in keeping things the way they are. It's a shallow argument, and it overlooks two critical points. First, if teachers and administrators are motivated by their vested interest in the system, well, so are all the reformsters who stand to make a living from "disrupting" education or who stand to make a fortune by opening an education-flavored business. Second, and more importantly, it overlooks another explanation for the pro-traditional stance of the "blob"-- people who are trained and experienced professionals in a field might just have a better idea of what works and what doesn't. In fact, we've been at this long enough now to start having versions of one particular conversation over and over and over again:

Reformster: I have discovered widgetomification, and it will revolutionize the education field.

Actual educators: That's a new version of an old idea. It won't work. You should not try to inflict it on schools. You should not waste our limited resources on it.

Reformster: You dreadful status quo-ians. You need to be swept aside.

(Some time passes)

Reformster: I have had another genius insight. I have come to announce that widgetomification does not work!

Actual educators: No shit, Sherlock.

Hess and Smarick almost acknowledge this when they write:

...perhaps Americans have decided to continue situating schools’ authority at the level of small, local democratic units not merely because it is convention but because there is wisdom and value in that convention.

They note that even where charters have captured large market shares and "empowered" (my scare quotes) parents, there is still a move to return power to local boards.

All this works us around to the question of what localism in K-12 actually means.

Reformers have tried to sell choice as "the ultimate expression of localism," allowing families to choose their communities and generally embodying "an understanding of localism based on voluntary associations, nongovernment bodies, and individual empowerment." They have some theories about why this pitch doesn't fly. I think they've missed a couple of major points, but I'll let them go first.

To many communities, they note, a school is not just a school, but a source of local pride. This is correct. Where you find small town school districts contemplating merger, there will be more discussion of school mascots and community identity than of ways to reconcile pedagogical techniques. And when my own district discussed closing some outlying elementary schools, there was the same level of concern you would expect from closing a post office o a community center.

Hess and Smarick are correct to note that, expanding choice "would seem to lead to atomization... in a manner likely to enervate communities and undermine social capital." And they are also correct to note that one some of the issues raised, there is not much room for compromise. " Either public schools are governed by elected officials or they are not." Either families can choose to send their children to private schools and have taxpayers foot the bill, or they can't.

Hess and Smarick have overlooked some other factors here. At one point they characterize choice as pushing authority down "from hulking, bureaucratic district offices." But in small town and rural districts, the central office is not hulking, and it is staffed (like every other small town institution) with readily recognizable friends and neighbors.

More notably, choice systems clash with localism because choice system disenfranchise large chunks of the community. A good solid Baptist community member may not approve of the Catholic school, or an African-American community member may not like the idea of a segregation academy in town, but if those community members don't have children, they have no say in what happens to their choice-directed tax dollars. In my region, where cyber-schools are the only real choice options functioning, community members are angry that a handful of families can make a decision that threatens the future of a school that is valued by the entire community because of laws passed by folks far off in the state capital. Hess and Smarick talk about the visible results of charters and choice, but in my neck of the woods, the visible effect of choice is that taxpayers are paying their taxes and suddenly it's not enough to maintain long-time valued community assets and traditions. A handful of families may get to exercise some choice, but the vast majority of taxpayers get no say at all in choices that are visibly damaging their beloved community schools.

Hess and Smarick end with a battery of questions about the bands of localism and how they both clash with and support the reformy desire for school choice (which is really the only type of reform being discussed here). But think tank ruminations aside, school choice and localism go together like chocolate and gasoline.