Latino students, parents should beware school choice ‘panacea’


by Julian Vasquez Heilig, guest blogger

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The wealthy have poured millions of dollars into “school choice” causes over the last decade. Under the mantra of civil rights, billionaires such as Eli Broad, Bill Gates, the Koch Brothers and the powerful corporate-funded lobby group the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) are using venture philanthropy and the political process to press for top-down neoliberal school reforms focused on private control and privatization in the United States. Recently, the Koch brothers and others have targeted their millions on the Latino community via Libre.

Libre was founded in 2011 and claims to be a “non-partisan, non-profit grassroots organization that advances the principles and values of economic freedom to empower the U.S. Hispanic community.” Media Matters reported that Libre’s senior staff are almost all Republican Party campaign veterans and has been backed over $10 Million in Koch funding— suggesting that Libre is neither non-partisan nor grassroots.

In their op-eds placed in newspapers in states where the Latino population is substantial, Libre representatives make simplistic— yet convincing— claims about the benefits of school “choice” for underserved communities of color. The predominance of the peer-reviewed literature does not support the grandiose claims that Libre makes and instead demonstrates that school choice, on average, does not produce the equity, social justice or student success that proponents spin.

No one is claiming that there are not examples of high quality charter schools or traditional neighborhood schools. However, several decades of peer-reviewed charter school and voucher research have demonstrated that choice is not a panacea. In fact, school choice has in many ways enhanced the United States’ unfortunate and problematic separate and unequal system of schools for many vulnerable students by often failing to properly serve special needs students and intensifying segregation.

The choice mantra should be wrestled away from Libre and the billionaire funders of neoliberal education “reforms.” Instead of policies that promote choice via top-down private control and privatization, we must offer community-based democratically controlled approaches to education. We must hold legislators accountable to fund what national polling has demonstrated parents want to choose in their neighborhood public schools— more parental involvement, less testing, smaller class sizes, quality teachers, and less hunger. The elephant in the room in our country is the unfortunate and consistent choice made by policymakers to talk incessantly about school choice while purposefully failing to deliver the resources to provision parental choices in both rich and poor schools.



Julian Vasquez Heilig is an award-winning researcher and teacher. He is currently a Professor of Educational Leadership and Policy Studies and the Director of the Doctorate in Educational Leadership at California State University Sacramento. He blogs at Cloaking Inequity, consistently rated one of the top 50 education websites in the world by Teach100. Follow him on Twitter @ProfessorJVH.

Reader Comments

  1. “The success of a charter school is directly proportional to the number of students the charter school rejects plus the length of the waiting list.”

    That’s Miller’s law, named after yours truly who invented it. Miller’s law explains all the research behind the success of charter schools.

    To explain Miller’s law further, you could parapharse the slogan of an old commercial for automobile insurance, “It’s the kids we don’t accept that makes our charter school such a wonderful place for the children that we do.”

    The more difficult it is to get into a charter school, the more prestige the charter school enjoys, and the more selective it can be. So naturally the best and the most selective charter school will have the highest test scores, since test score performance is the big “deal breaker” in who gets in, who stays, and who does not.

    As a result, charter schools replicate an intricate caste system with a few prestigious schools at the top. The charter schools which have to accept the rejects become nothing more than a public school with a fancy-pants name.

    That’s the reason that most charter schools don’t “perform” better on the sacrosanct TESTS than their public school counter-parts.

    *PS. Yes really prestigious charter schools can accept a handful of “at risk” students for PR. They can even accept a few kids with “special needs” as long as these kids are connected with “power parents.’ However, charter schools can easily replace these at “risk kids” if their test scores don’t measure up.

  2. Great article. Thank you for so clearly describing how neoliberals promote privatization on the backs of low-income students of color. Neoliberal “reformers” justify their policies with cries of equity and the need to “empower” families with “choices.” This only replicates competition and inequality, while ranking/sorting students in the service of the economy.

    I will be sharing this with my pre-service students as part of our study of market thinking, hierarchy, and front groups such as Libre.

    Thank you again!

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