Polling reveals that parents, especially African Americans, want school choice. Studies show choice students pulling even with public school kids even in laggard programs, and often surpassing them. And states keep expanding choice initiatives as families flock to them.
Perhaps because of all this good news, opponents of expanding the options available to parents and their children have launched a new strategy, one employing grossly cherry-picked history to imply that school choice is fueled by bigotry. It is both hugely inaccurate history, and hugely ironic, because if any education system has been shot-through with bigotry, it is public schooling.
The new assault started with “The Racist Origins of Private School Vouchers,” a report from the leftist Center for American Progress, focused on southern districts that, after Brown v. Board of Education,implemented school choice plans to dodge integration. Soon after the report’s release, American Federation of Teachers president Randi Weingarten declared in a speech to her union’s annual convention that choice and proposed federal education budget cuts were the “only slightly more polite cousins of segregation.” And just this week, TheNew York Times ran a piece by journalist Katherine Stewart stating that choice supporters’ objections to “government schools” have their lineage in racism and anti-Catholicism.
The most glaring omission in these choice-smearing histories is that Jim Crow laws segregated African Americans in public schools for decades
These are not totally without historical bases. Some segregationists, for instance, did try to employ choice to escape integration. But just because some people had ugly motives does not mean most supporters of school choice do. And these hyper-politicized versions of history have ignored that the far bigger, much more devastating story of bigotry has been in the public schools that were supposed to serve everyone.
The most glaring omission in these choice-smearing histories is that Jim Crow laws segregated African Americans in public schools for decades. Meanwhile, private schools sometimes integrated in open defiance of the law. And segregation did not occur only with African Americans or in the South. It was practiced in Boston through the mid-1850s, and Asians and Mexican Americans were segregated in other parts of the country.