My Cup Is Half Fuller!

There is a fascinating little dust-up going on in the school choice world yesterday and today.   Not the new Fordham report, which basically did signal to the more hard core elements of the school choice crowd that they need to get with the program around quality and accountability, but rather some seemingly innocuous and quite reasonable things that school choice advocate Howard Fuller said about proposals to increase accountability within the Milwaukee school voucher program.  He made a similar point albeit more obliquely in the WSJ yesterday($).  Ideas like requiring schools that are accepting public funds to have teachers who have B.A.s or instituting some open records requirements for schools that receive public money hardly seem to strike at the heart of school choice.   And slippery slope arguments, while not invalid on their face, are an ironic posture for school choice advocates to take since the bulk of the arguments against school choice are rooted in the idea that it’s a slippery slope.  Besides, in politics and policy almost everything is a slippery slope to somewhere.  In other words, school choice advocates would do well to listen to Fuller.

I suspect this little contretemps may have as much to do with politics within the voucher crowd about influence, who gets to speak on what, and messaging as it does with substance.  And throughout his colorful career Fuller has never shied from speaking his mind so good luck controlling him!  But there is a real substantive issue here and a genuine divide about what sort of accountability is reasonable (pdf) and whether choice should trump all other values and equities in education or be one value among several that policies should respect.   That divide is what separates a lot of charter school folks from the more hard core voucher supporters. 

And here’s the frustrating thing if you actually want to see progress around expanding choices and options for parents and don’t have a compulsive love of the theater:  When it comes to issues like public accountability, people like Fuller and Stanford’s Terry Moe have been saying sensible things about regulations for years (and cautioning against ideas like tax-credits as a way to  help low-income families).  But you’d never know that listening to all the rhetoric because unfortunately all that gets lost in the din of the back and forth between the most strident advocates on both sides of the choice issue and the conversation about choice and accountability consistently comes up lame.  Education politics, not known for their nuance…

PS — Speaking of slippery slopes, seems even more likely that in the end the Milwaukee voucher program will end up being a stalking horse for public charter schools, not the other way around…that’s of course why a lot of folks are upset with Fuller but his thing was never just vouchers anyway…

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