National School Choice Week, a pet project of big corporations and conservative billionaires like the Koch brothers, kicked off Monday with celebratory forums throughout the country. Billing itself as a social justice movement committed to “ensuring effective education options for every child,” “school choice” has actually become a deeply divisive wedge issue for the right. But the folks at School Choice Week would prefer that you didn’t know that.
On their website, you can find photographs and videos of shiny happy children of all races and ethnicities. And you’ll see that Bill Cosby is a major supporter. And since he has a doctorate in education and has acted as a philanthropist on behalf of many African-American schools, many will see his endorsement as an important mark of legitimacy.
But there are a few serious problems with the school choice movement. Though it attracts mainstream conservatives like Cosby, as well as Democrats like President Barack Obama, it is not, at its core, a bipartisan endeavor. Its most important backers are rightwing organizations like the Heritage Foundation, Americans for Prosperity and other groups supported by billionaire rightwing ideologues like the Koch brothers. They want to dismantle public education altogether and run schools as businesses, judged as “successes” or “failures” based on abstract data taken from high-stakes standardized test scores.
Access to opportunity is replaced with demands for universal “excellence” and “achievement,” in which teachers are punished for student “failure.” This pits parents against teachers, and it ultimately sidelines already marginalized children of immigrant families, poor children, and/or children of color.