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By Deacon Keith Fournier

5/21/2014 (10 months ago)

Catholic Online (www.catholic.org)

As the run up to the Presidential race of 2016 begins, I will keep an eye on all of the emerging contenders. One area of special concern will be their positions on true educational reform.

Jeb Bush is correct. It is time to move beyond the stale rhetoric and ineffective top down federal educational programs and enact real educational Reform in the United States. That reform requires parental or school choice. We need real educational revolution and not the rearranging of chairs on the Titanic which has masqueraded as educational reform in the past. I use the term parental choice in education when advocating for this reform because I think it more aptly recognizes that parents are the first teachers. Therefore, they should be the ones who make the choice where to expand their teaching mission for their own children. This choice should make available for all parents good public, private, parochial, virtual, classical, charter and home schools.

Former Governor Jeb Bush

Former Governor Jeb Bush

Highlights

By Deacon Keith Fournier

Catholic Online (www.catholic.org)

5/21/2014 (10 months ago)

Published in Politics & Policy

Keywords: school choice, educational choice, parental choice, Jeb Bush, campaign 2016, Brown v Board of Education, Deacon Keith Fournier


CHESAPEAKE, VA (Catholic Online) - The Saturday May 17, 2014 edition of the Miami Herald contained an outstanding editorial written by by former Florida Governor Jeb Bush entitled When schools are a matter of choice, families win.

The tag line at the bottom of the editorial read, Jeb Bush was governor of Florida from 1999-2007 and currently serves as chairman of the Foundation for Excellence in Education and Foundation for Florida's Future.

It could have added, He is also testing the waters for the Republican nomination for the 2016 presidential campaign. After all, everybody knows it. The editorial was so good, I excerpt it almost in its entirety because it deserves to be read beyond its original venue. Former Governor Bush wrote:

*****
Sixty years ago, the U.S. Supreme Court created mass disruption in public education with its Brown v. Board of Education ruling. No more, the court said, could states discriminate against African-American children with government-sponsored segregation policies.

The decision was historic in scope and brought real progress. But as of yet, its promise of an equal education for all goes unrealized. We still have African-American and Hispanic fourth graders reading two and a half grade levels below their white counterparts, a gap that isn't closing in later school years.

Such disparities, which largely reflect socioeconomic status, are unsustainable.


At the time of Brown v. Board, about 80 percent of American students were white. Now fast-forward to the future where, five years from now, minorities will make up half of the under-18 population.

The success of minority children in the 21st century will determine the success of this nation. We can no more compete in the world economy without engaging them than a boxer can win a fight with one arm behind his back.


Equality in education has evolved from an issue of social justice for one demographic group to what must become a national priority for all Americans. The achievement gap is far too wide while we try to bridge it with baby steps. This is not a reflection of the ability of students, but the consequence of a system that considers their achievement a secondary priority. Making kids the priority produces entirely different results.

For example, I recently spoke at a Success Academy Charter Schools gala in New York where I was upstaged by the 14-year-old student who introduced me. He is a debating champion who had just returned from a national tournament.


He also lives in poverty, facing hardships most of us can't imagine. And yet he attends a high-performing school that has him believing in his own success. He excels in the classroom and behind the podium. He speaks eloquently of overcoming his circumstances and participating in the American Dream.

He is not alone. The Success Academy targets its schools at disadvantaged children. And it achieves remarkable results.

Statewide, their students far outperformed students in traditional public schools last year in reading and math. At the Success Academy Bronx 2 school, with an 86 percent poverty rate, 97 percent of students scored proficient in math, more than triple the statewide average.

The Success Academy is not an isolated example. We also see strong results in the celebrated KIPP network of charter schools, in the Aspire network of charter schools in California, in the Noble network of charter schools in Chicago and schools in Florida such as the Latin Builders Association Construction & Business Management Academy Charter High School.

I could go on. In addition to charter schools, we see children excel when provided vouchers or tax-credit scholarships or education savings accounts. Choice is providing education options more befitting the most diverse student population in our history.

In a relatively short period of time, we are seeing these alternatives achieve results that traditional public schools haven't achieved in decades.

Such opportunities obviously were not in place when Brown v. Board was decided. The solutions for education inequality were engineered to accommodate public school bureaucracies. This allowed them to maintain their one-size-fits-all monopolies. They routinely sent poor children to schools that did not meet their needs, did not teach them to read, did not teach them math and did not provide them with the barest essentials to be a success in life.


Instead of confronting poverty, schools enabled it. We have been told that too many low-income students overwhelm the ability of the staff to effectively teach them. And so expectations are reduced. Standards are lowered. Failure is an accepted fait accompli, with adults in the schools and bureaucracies little more than helpless bystanders.

This situation exists when there are no sanctions for failure, no rewards for success, no measurement to mark progress and no choice for parents who cannot afford the right neighborhood or private school tuition.

And now some parents are being exposed to alternatives, to schools that set high standards, have a rigorous curriculum and create expectations of college.

This is why they get on long waiting lists for these schools, while the schools they are trying to escape have a glut of available space. School choice isn't an attack on public education. It is a response to shortcomings in public education.

The natural progression of Brown v. Board of Education is the empowerment of families. It is moving the critical decision of where a child goes to school away from centralized bureaucracies and into living rooms. It is creating a marketplace of schools where achievement is measured, where results are communicated to parents in a simple, transparent manner and where a school's students are earned, not an entitlement.

Will this create disruption? Absolutely. But as we learned from Brown v. Board, disruption of a failed status quo can't stop us from moving forward, particularly when the stakes are so high...

*****


Jeb Bush is correct.

It is time to move beyond the stale rhetoric and ineffective top down federal educational programs and enact real educational Reform in the United States.
That reform requires parental or school choice.

We need real educational revolution and not the rearranging of chairs on the Titanic which has masqueraded as educational reform in the past. I use the term parental choice in education when advocating for this reform because I think it more aptly recognizes that parents are the first teachers.

Therefore, they should be the ones who make the choice where to expand their teaching mission for their own children. This choice should make available for all parents good public, private, parochial, virtual, classical, charter and home schools.

Education outside of the home is an extension of the parent's primary educational mission. The family is the first school and the first government. We have forgotten that objective truth as a Nation and we are reaping the consequences.

Good government is always bottom up, not top down, deferring first to the smallest governing unit; not usurping but empowering and helping families.

Those who oppose this educational reform often resort to scare tactics. They argue that it will detrimentally affect the public school system. They claim that supporters of school choice are against public schools. This is simply not true.  I support school choice.

I grew up in the inner city of Dorchester, Massachusetts in a blue collar home. My parents struggled to give me the first four primary educational years in a parochial school. The remainder of my education was in a public school.

My parents moved, at great sacrifice and hardship, to make sure I attended a good public school. School choice will give parents greater say in their local schools and make such disruptive moves less necessary.

Opponents often try to rewrite American history. They claim the currently overly federalized bloated bureaucracy called the Public School system is how education in the United States has always been. Nothing could be further from factual history.

In loco parentis - a Latin phrase meaning in the place of, or on behalf of the parents - was the polestar of educational law for years. Now, it is all but replaced with a top down one size fits all federalized system which has substituted bureaucrats for parents.

The origins of what became the public school system in the United States began with families pooling resources in small community schools.  Now, parents and local communities have an increasingly smaller role in the educational decisional process.

Public schools were first local, community schools. Parental or School choice educational reform will return the leadership of our National educational endeavor to parents and the local community.

School Choice is not a threat to good governance. Rather, it recognizes that government begins in the home and then applies the social ordering principle of subsidiarity. The term is derived from the Latin word "subsidium" which means help or assistance.

The principle of subidiarity is a social ordering principle which says that governance should begin at the smallest level first.

All other government should provide assistance or help to that first government - and not usurp its primary role. Thus, it is a principle which favors a bottom up approach to governing and affirms the family as the first government and first school.

Some opponents of educational choice have a vested interest; they are entrenched in the current federalized educational bureaucracy and the culture which fuels it. However, people of every walk of life now admit the obvious, our educational system is broken.  A growing number support the school choice movement.

Some opponents allege that supporters of parental or school choice want to privatize education. In fact, it is really an effort to Re-Parentize education, by once again affirming that that the family is the first school and first government and parents are the first teachers.

Parents and not federal bureaucrats should make the choices concerning the education of their children outside of the first school of the home.

We need to reconsider our history and chart an effective path to true educational reform and educational freedom in the future. The origins of what became the public school system began with families pooling resources in small community schools.  Now, parents and local communities have an increasingly smaller role in the educational process.

The current overly federalized approach to education in the United States is failing. Statistics and experience confirm the obvious. It is time for a change and parental (school) choice is the change needed. It means affirming that Parents are the ones who should make the choice of how to best extend their own teaching mission outside of the home.

Catholics need to know what the Catholic Church says about the primary educational role of parents. The Catechism of the Catholic Church affirms the right of parents to choose a school for their children:

As those first responsible for the education of their children, parents have the right to choose a school for them which corresponds to their own convictions. This right is fundamental. As far as possible parents have the duty of choosing schools that will best help them in their task as Christian educators. Public authorities have the duty of guaranteeing this parental right and of ensuring the concrete conditions for its exercise. (CCC #2229)

In an Apostolic Exhortation entitled "The Role of the Christian Family in the Modern World" Saint John Paul II wrote:

The right and duty of parents to give education is essential, since it is connected with the transmission of human life; it is original and primary with regard to the educational role of others, on account of the uniqueness of the loving relationship between parents and children; it is irreplaceable and inalienable, and therefore incapable of being entirely delegated to others or usurped by others.

In his "Letter to Families", he wrote:

Parents are the first and most important educators of their own children, and they also possess a fundamental competence in this area; they are educators because they are parents. They share their educational mission with other individuals or institutions, such as the Church and the State.

But the mission of education must always be carried out in accordance with a proper application of the Principle of Subsidiarity. This implies the legitimacy and indeed the need of giving assistance to the parents, but finds its intrinsic and absolute limit in their prevailing right and actual capabilities. The principle of subsidiarity is thus at the service of parental love, meeting the good of the family unit."

For parents by themselves are not capable of satisfying every requirement of the whole process of raising children; especially in matters concerning their schooling and the entire gamut of socialization. Subsidiarity thus complements paternal and maternal love and confirms its fundamental nature, inasmuch as all other participants in the process of education are only able to carry out their responsibilities in the name of the parents, with their consent and, to a certain degree, with their authorization
.

Jeb Bush is absolutely correct. School Choice is a matter of real social justice - not what is masquerading as social justice these days. Sadly, the term has been co-opted. The opposition by some in the leadership of the teachers unions to such educational reform shows how far these mediating associations have strayed from their proper social role.

Some of the leaders of teachers unions seem to be are less concerned about poor children getting a good education that they are about maintaining control over a system which is failing.  That is a real shame. It also falls short of the original purpose of such unions as mediating institutions.

Will parental or school choice in the United States also improve the current state of our Catholic School system in the United States? Yes, it will. And the Nation would benefit greatly. It will open up our schools as one of the many options for all parents to choose from for their own children.

As the run up to the Presidential race of 2016 begins, I will keep an eye on all of the emerging contenders. One area of special concern will be their positions on true educational reform.

---


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