Archive for the ‘School Choice’ Category

Why Trump’s Education Pick Scares Unions

December 1, 2016

Betsy DeVos favors school choice and helped pass Michigan’s first charter-school bill.

Betsy DeVos on Nov. 19; Randi Weingarten in 2012. ENLARGE
Betsy DeVos on Nov. 19; Randi Weingarten in 2012. PHOTO: ZUMA PRESS; REUTERS

After Donald Trump nominated Betsy DeVos to become education secretary, teachers union honcho Randi Weingarten tweeted: “Trump has chosen the most ideological, anti-public ed nominee since the creation of the Dept of Education.” Since what’s good for the unions is often bad for the schools, and vice versa, Ms. Weingarten’s apoplexy is reason to cheer.

Ms. DeVos is chairwoman of the American Federation for Children, an organization dedicated to helping parents choose the best school for their kids. Ms. Weingarten leads the American Federation of Teachers, which is focused on what’s best for the adults.

Detractors say Ms. DeVos is opposed to public education. But she told an interviewer in 2013 that her definition of educational choice includes schools of all kinds. “What we are trying to do is tear down the mindset that assigns students to a school based solely on the zip code of their family’s home,” she said. “We think of the educational choice movement as involving many parts: vouchers and tax credits, certainly, but also virtual schools, magnet schools, homeschooling, and charter schools.” In the early 1990s, Ms. DeVos and her husband, a former president of Amway, were involved in passing Michigan’s first charter- school bill.

Ms. Weingarten brings a different set of priorities to the education debate. She has fought to keep persistently failing schools open because they still provide jobs for her dues-paying members. She has fought to ensure that government officials, rather than parents, decide where a child attends school. Union influence over education policy in the U.S. is unrivaled, and Ms. Weingarten prefers it that way. Her top concern is better pay and working conditions for her members. Students don’t pay union dues.

That doesn’t make her a bad person, but it should cast doubt on claims, too often swallowed whole by education reporters, that union interests are perfectly aligned with those of students and families. A union-negotiated work rule that says teachers can’t be evaluated by how much their students learn is a job-protection measure, but it obviously harms kids and school quality.Educationphilanthropists often work to accommodate the teachers unions. Ms. DeVos chose to fight them head on by backing political candidates who support school choice, the same way unions support candidates who don’t.Michael Petrilli, a veteran of George W. Bush’s Education Department who now runs the Thomas B. Fordham Institute, wrote last week that the DeVos pick shows Mr. Trump’s seriousness. “She was one of the first people in ed-reform to understand that we weren’t going to beat the teachers unions with op-eds and policy papers,” he wrote. “She pushed the private school choice movement to invest in serious political giving much earlier than the mainstream reform groups did, and, so far, with far greater success.” In the 2016 election, the American Federation for Children invested in 121 races in 12 states and won 89% of them.

Mr. Trump clearly has tapped a fighter, and education reformers are thrilled. The school voucher program in Washington, D.C., that President Obama has spent two terms working to shut down—at the urging of the unions, natch—is likely to flourish under the new administration. Mr. Obama and his Education Department supported charter schools but not vouchers. Ms. DeVos embraces school choice writ large, and states interested in expanding educational options for low-income families will proceed knowing that Washington has their back.

Mr. Obama tended to regulate what he couldn’t legislate, and education policy was no exception. The administration imposed its will from Washington in areas traditionally left to the states—from Common Core curriculum standards, to bathroom rules for transgender students, to race-based school discipline policies. With any luck Ms. DeVos will promptly end this meddling.

Reformers are also hoping that the Trump administration learns from the past. To the dismay of many conservatives, George W. Bush greatly expanded the role of the federal government in K-12 schooling through the No Child Left Behind Act. Insisting that school districts break down test results by subgroup—low income, special education, racial minorities—increased transparency. But rewarding and punishing school districts based on yearly progress was overreach that even some who supported the law now regret. It legitimized a more muscular role in education for the feds.

Mr. Trump has proposed a $20 billion federal voucher program that students could use to attend public or private schools. But this idea presents similar hazards. Federal dollars will bring federal regulations, and reform-minded individuals like Betsy DeVos won’t forever be in charge of implementing them. Better to let the states lead on school choice. Now that Republicans control 33 governorships and both legislative chambers in 32 states, what’s stopping them?

Betsy DeVos’s School Mission

November 25, 2016

One promise of the Trump Presidency is that it will try to break up Washington’s political cartels. Among the worst is the Education Department, and Betsy DeVos is well positioned to take it on as Mr. Trump’s nominee to run that wholly owned subsidiary of the teachers unions and cultural left.

Mrs. DeVos is a philanthropist who has devoted years and much of her fortune to promoting school reform, especially charter schools and vouchers. She chairs the American Federation for Children (AFC), which has fought in the trenches across the country for more school choice to liberate kids from failing schools. By trenches we mean hand-to-hand political combat in state legislative races against the teachers unions.

AFC was especially successful this year, as 108 of the 121 candidates it supported won their elections. AFC candidates in Florida won 20 of 21 targeted races. The group’s biggest coup was ousting a scourge of school choice in a Miami-Dade Senate district where Democrats are a majority. The teachers union dumped $1 million into the race but still lost.

The union hoped to demonstrate diminishing public support for Florida’s tax-credit scholarships—the largest private-school choice program in the country—which is under review by the state Supreme Court. AFC ran ads with parents of scholarship recipients demanding that opponents be held accountable.

Choice advocates scored other big victories this month in what is an underreported election story. Indiana Republican Jennifer McCormick dislodged State Education Superintendent Glenda Ritz, who attacked charters and vouchers during her four-year term. Republican Mark Johnson also defenestrated a union-backed superintendent in North Carolina.

Teachers unions fanned public fury over North Carolina’s transgender bathroom law to exact retribution against GOP Governor Pat McCrory, who repealed teacher tenure, expanded charters and established vouchers. Even if Mr. McCrory loses his tight race for re-election, the legislature has locked in funding for vouchers that will escalate over 12 years.

New York Republicans maintained their state Senate majority, which is a crucial bulwark against the union-controlled Assembly. At least nine of the 10 Republican candidates supported by the pro-charter group StudentsFirstNY prevailed.

Charter groups even racked up victories in California, where many legislative races featured two Democrats due to the state’s nonpartisan primary. In an East Bay Assembly seat, Democrat Tim Grayson beat Mae Torlakson, who is married to the state’s union-friendly superintendent of public instruction. Charter groups also helped elect Democrat Anna Caballero and former Assemblyman Raul Bocanegra to reclaim the seat he lost two years ago to a union frontwoman. California Teachers Association president Eric Heinsfrets that the freshman legislators could have a long-term impact.

One of Mrs. DeVos’s tasks will be leveraging her bully pulpit and federal dollars to extend this progress to the states, where most education money is spent. She will be the most pro-choice secretary since Bill Bennett in the Reagan years, and she is a particular improvement over George W. Bush’s secretary Margaret Spellings. The National Education Association union blew a gasket at Mrs. DeVos’s appointment Wednesday, which qualifies as high praise.

Mrs. DeVos will have to study up quickly on higher education, where the ObamaAdministration has done so much harm. This means revisiting rules on for-profit colleges and especially the destructive “guidance” on enforcing Title IX that has forced schools to jettison due process for accused students and faculty.

The union and progressive backlash will be ferocious, so it’s good that Mr. Trump has picked a nominee in Mrs. DeVos who knows how to fight and to make the moral case for reform.

Teachers Unions Fight to Save Georgia’s ‘Dropout Factories’

November 6, 2016
Voters in Atlanta, March 1.
Voters in Atlanta, March 1. PHOTO: ALAMY STOCK PHOTO


The old saying that the states are the laboratories of American democracy certainly holds true for public education. On Tuesday, Georgia voters will consider a proposed constitutional amendment designed to rescue thousands of students from failing schools.

If passed, it would create a new statewide Opportunity School District. Struggling schools that receive an “F” grade for three consecutive years could be transferred to the new district, which could then make changes, convert them to charter schools or close them.

This isn’t so much an experiment as a replication. Georgia’s plan is modeled in part after Louisiana’s Recovery School District, which spurred remarkable gains in student achievement after Hurricane Katrina. It also resembles Tennessee’s Achievement School District, which the legislature created in 2010.

That is what worries America’s education establishment. Teachers unions do not want this model of school reform to spread further. As of Nov. 1, campaign disclosures show, the National Education Association alone has poured $4.7 million into opposing Georgia’s amendment. For the most part the unions are making a conservative pitch: They argue that the Opportunity School District would create a new, unaccountable state bureaucracy that would take schools out of local control.

It’s the same case the unions made in 2012. The Georgia ballot then included a constitutional amendment allowing the state to create charter schools—a workaround if local education boards didn’t want them. That measure passed easily, 59% to 41%, and opponents’ dire predictions haven’t come to fruition. But the union effort this year is better funded, and opinion polls indicate that the Opportunity School District won’t pass nearly as comfortably. Balloting is expected to be close.

Voters who haven’t yet made up their minds ought to look hard at Louisiana’s example. Before Katrina, Democrats had already created the Recovery School District, but it had been barely used. In the crisis after the hurricane, officials transferred New Orleans’s 107 lowest-performing schools to its management. Only 16 citywide were left in the hands of the local board.

Some schools in the recovery district were closed. Over time, all of the rest were converted to charters. Families could choose which schools their children attended. Teachers and principals were given unprecedented control over their curricula, budgets and personnel.

“We hired some talented individuals. We implemented an academic model that was very strong,” says Jamar McKneely, a former teacher who is now the CEO of Inspire NOLA, which manages three charters. “In the old system, we couldn’t do that, because we had to deal with district mandates that honestly didn’t lead to academic gains for our students.”

The results have been dramatic: New Orleans’s high-school-graduation rate leapt by 21 percentage points, to 75%, between 2004 and 2015. Students in the city improved their average ACT score by almost two points, to 18.8 from 17, over a decade. College enrollment was 63% in 2015, up from 37% in 2004.

Critics claim that this success came only because Katrina drove many poor families and minorities out of New Orleans. The demographics, however, are little changed. Between 2004 and 2014, the percentage of black students dropped slightly, to 87% from 93%. But the share of students considered “economically disadvantaged” rose to 84% from 77%. Moreover, the recovery district teaches a higher proportion of children with disabilities, 13%, than the city or state as whole. The gains didn’t come from cherry-picking the best students.

Seeing sustained success, the state legislature voted this year to return all of New Orleans’s schools back to the local board, while maintaining their autonomy. A fair-minded observer would conclude that the recovery district helped break a cycle of failure. “We often ask ourselves, if it were your child, what would you want to do?” says Patrick Dobard, the district’s superintendent. “Stay on a perpetual hamster wheel, or get off the perpetual hamster wheel and hold people accountable for bringing change?”

After watching this from afar, Georgia Gov. Nathan Deal, a Republican, made a campaign promise in 2014: If re-elected, he would seek to bring the same model here. He pushed an amendment for the new district through the General Assembly, securing the two-thirds majorities needed to place it on the ballot.

Today, Georgia deems 127 of its schools, serving almost 68,000 students, chronically failing. Many students attend only failing schools from kindergarten through high school. “I had a child that actually graduated from one of the schools on the list,” says Valencia Stovall, a Democratic state representative who voted for the measure. “For me, I saw the whole gamut of what happens when students are stuck in those schools. . . . When you have a nonresponsive school board, like we had, it makes parents and even teachers angry.”

That’s where the “local control” argument falls apart. What is more local than a charter school, with teachers and parents crafting solutions for their unique challenges? Which is closer to students: A charter serving a few hundred, or a city board of education responsible for tens of thousands of kids?

Georgia’s economic future—and America’s more broadly—depends on turning around “dropout factories” in cities like Atlanta, Savannah and Augusta. But what worries the teachers unions is that a good idea might spread—from Louisiana, to Georgia, to a dozen other states that are serious about fixing failing schools.

Mr. Wingfield is a columnist for the Atlanta Journal-Constitution.

Should Christians Vote for Trump?

October 13, 2016
Praying at a Trump campaign rally on Tuesday in Panama City, Fla.ENLARGE
Praying at a Trump campaign rally on Tuesday in Panama City, Fla. PHOTO: ASSOCIATED PRESS

This question should hardly require an essay, but let’s face it: We’re living in strange times. America is in trouble.

Over this past year many of Donald Trump’s comments have made me almost literally hopping mad. The hot-mic comments from 2005 are especially horrifying. Can there be any question we should denounce them with flailing arms and screeching volume? I must not hang out in the right locker rooms, because if anyone I know said such things I might assault him physically (and repent later). So yes, many see these comments as a deal breaker.

But we have a very knotty and larger problem. What if the other candidate also has deal breakers? Even a whole deplorable basketful? Suddenly things become horribly awkward. Would God want me simply not to vote? Is that a serious option?

What if not pulling the lever for Mr. Trump effectively means electing someone who has actively enabled sexual predation in her husband before—and while—he was president? Won’t God hold me responsible for that? What if she defended a man who raped a 12-year-old and in recalling the case laughed about getting away with it? Will I be excused from letting this person become president? What if she used her position as secretary of state to funnel hundreds of millions into her own foundation, much of it from nations that treat women and gay people worse than dogs? Since these things are true, can I escape responsibility for them by simply not voting?

Many say they won’t vote because choosing the lesser of two evils is still choosing evil. But this is sophistry. Neither candidate is pure evil. They are human beings. We cannot escape the uncomfortable obligation to soberly choose between them. Not voting—or voting for a third candidate who cannot win—is a rationalization designed more than anything to assuage our consciences. Yet people in America and abroad depend on voters to make this very difficult choice.

Children in the Middle East are forced to watch their fathers drowned in cages by ISIS. Kids in inner-city America are condemned to lives of poverty, hopelessness and increasing violence. Shall we sit on our hands and simply trust “the least of these” to God, as though that were our only option? Don’t we have an obligation to them?

Two heroes about whom I’ve written faced similar difficulties. William Wilberforce, who ended the slave trade in the British Empire, often worked with other parliamentarians he knew to be vile and immoral in their personal lives.

Why did he? First, because as a sincere Christian he knew he must extend grace and forgiveness to others, since he desperately needed them himself. Second, because he knew the main issue was not his moral purity, nor the moral impurity of his colleagues, but rather the injustices and horrors suffered by the African slaves whose cause he championed. He knew that before God his first obligation was to them, and he must do what he could to help them.

The anti-Nazi martyr Dietrich Bonhoeffer also did things most Christians of his day were disgusted by. He most infamously joined a plot to kill the head of his government. He was horrified by it, but he did it nonetheless because he knew that to stay “morally pure” would allow the murder of millions to continue. Doing nothing or merely “praying” was not an option. He understood that God was merciful, and that even if his actions were wrong, God saw his heart and could forgive him. But he knew he must act.

Wilberforce and Bonhoeffer knew it was an audience of One to whom they would ultimately answer. And He asks, “What did you do to the least of these?”

It’s a fact that if Hillary Clinton is elected, the country’s chance to have a Supreme Court that values the Constitution—and the genuine liberty and self-government for which millions have died—is gone. Not for four years, or eight, but forever. Many say Mr. Trump can’t be trusted to deliver on this score, but Mrs. Clinton certainly can be trusted in the opposite direction. For our kids and grandkids, are we not obliged to take our best shot at this? Shall we sit on our hands and refuse to choose?

If imperiously flouting the rules by having a private server endangered American lives and secrets and may lead to more deaths, if she cynically deleted thousands of emails, and if her foreign-policy judgment led to the rise of Islamic State, won’t refusing to vote make me responsible for those suffering as a result of these things? How do I squirm out of this horrific conundrum? It’s unavoidable: We who can vote must answer to God for these people, whom He loves. We are indeed our brothers’ and sisters’ keepers.

We would be responsible for passively electing someone who champions the abomination of partial-birth abortion, someone who is celebrated by an organization that sells baby parts. We already live in a country where judges force bakers, florists and photographers to violate their consciences and faith—and Mrs. Clinton has zealously ratified this. If we believe this ends with bakers and photographers, we are horribly mistaken. No matter your faith or lack of faith, this statist view of America will dramatically affect you and your children.

For many of us, this is very painful, pulling the lever for someone many think odious. But please consider this: A vote for Donald Trump is not necessarily a vote for Donald Trump himself. It is a vote for those who will be affected by the results of this election. Not to vote is to vote. God will not hold us guiltless.

Mr. Metaxas, host of the nationally syndicated “Eric Metaxas Show,” is the author of “If You Can Keep It: The Forgotten Promise of American Liberty” (Viking, 2016).

A Bay State Referendum on Charter Schools

September 29, 2016

Boston’s charter-school students are learning twice as fast as their peers. Why vote against more charters?

Cambridge, Mass.

A half-dozen times in recent years I have participated in “book club night” at a local charter school—a not-for-credit event where seventh- and eighth-graders meet with adult volunteers to discuss a book we have all read in advance.

These nights are pretty much a charter proponent’s fantasy. The kids are wide-eyed and respectful. They not only have read the material, they are brimming with questions. Every one of them is black or Hispanic and lower-income—what is commonly referred to as “disadvantaged.” Except, they don’t appear disadvantaged.

These students have big plans for the future—including college. And why not? They are learning twice as fast as their peers in traditional schools, on average. According to a 2013 study by Stanford University’s Center for Research on Education Outcomes, Boston charter students “gain an additional 12 months in reading and 13 months in math per school year.” Remarkably, African-Americans in the city’s charters are progressing faster than white students at traditional public schools.

Such results have made Massachusetts ground zero for the national charter debate. Due to state laws limiting charter-school capacity, 32,000 kids—most of them poor minorities—languish on waiting lists. This year the state legislature tried to craft a compromise to ease the restrictions but failed. Now it’s up to voters: A referendum on the November ballot would authorize the state to open as many as 12 new charters each year, adding to the roughly 70 in operation now.

In one sense, the ballot measure, known as Question 2, has already proved a boon: Money is pouring in. Pro-charter groups and individuals, including former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, have contributed more than $12 million to pass it, according to financial reports filed with the state. Local unions and the American Federation of Teachers have raised about $6.8 million to defeat it. By comparison, a ballot item to legalize pot has smoked out only $3 million.

Charters are public schools run by independent operators, unconstrained by union rules but subject to the same basic educational standards. Results vary, but studies, like one in 2011 by Harvard’s Center for Education Policy Research, suggest that poor and minority students do particularly well in charters.Posting admission by lottery results at a charter school in Boston.

Massachusetts has been a front-runner in education since the 1830s, when Horace Mann set out to create a system of public schools. In a state that takes great pride in education, Question 2 has inflamed passions. Local Republicans, who want no part of this year’s presidential politics, are avidly in favor, with Republican Gov. Charlie Baker leading the charge. Democrats are painfully divided, as one might expect for an issue that, arguably, separates the interests of organized teachers from their students.

The Democratic state committee opposes Question 2. Seth Moulton,the freshman congressman in Massachusetts’ sixth district, is undecided. Rep. Joe Kennedy, who represents the fourth district, is against. Boston Mayor Marty Walsh supports enabling more charters but opposes Question 2, citing its budgetary impact and favoring a gradual approach.

Opponents point out that the state’s public schools, on average, consistently rank among the country’s best. True, but the “average” masks some severe underperformance, at urban schools in particular. The argument that charters cherry-pick the best students is a canard. Admission is by lottery, and charter students in urban areas retain their edge when compared against those (presumably equally as motivated) who applied but didn’t get in.

A more substantive concern is that when a student abandons a traditional public school, a pro rata share of funding is diverted from the district school to the charter. Massachusetts has a generous program to reimburse local districts but, over time, aid money goes down. “Since the majority will continue to be educated in mainstream schools we have to be sensitive to that,” says Paul Reville, the top education adviser to Deval Patrick, the former Democratic governor. But Mr. Reville, now at Harvard, adds that school districts also have a responsibility to consolidate if their populations shrink. He says, “We ought to be as vigilant about closing [failing] mainstream schools as we are about charters.”

Smaller districts can’t always consolidate: If you have only one math class and you lose 10% of your funding, you still need a math teacher. Much of the problem is one of will. In Boston, the student population has been flat or shrinking for years. City government has offset the diversion of money to charters by siphoning a greater share of general funds to education. This is less sensible than it might sound.

Boston public schools have 93,000 seats yet only about 54,000 students, according to a 2015 audit by McKinsey & Co. Along with that comes plummeting student-teacher ratios and bloated operational staffs. The real squeeze on public schools, according to a recent report by the nonpartisan Boston Municipal Research Bureau, arises from the “struggle” to cut excess capacity.

Whatever happens with Question 2, most kids in Massachusetts will remain in traditional public schools. That is why the referendum gives priority to new charters in districts that are truly failing their students. Some Question 2 opponents argue suburban districts could lose control of their schools, but this is unlikely. Only 4% of the state’s public students attend charters, and high-performing suburbs would mostly be unaffected.

Paul Grogan, who runs the Boston Foundation, a philanthropy that contributes to charters and (in much greater amounts) to regular public schools, says charters fulfill a vital role as incubators of reform. Thanks to competitive pressures, public schools—famously resistant to change—at long last are lengthening the school day and giving principals more autonomy and budget discretion. Local districts that fail to respond, he suggests, deserve their fate: “The fundamental issue is should the money be chained to institutions or should it follow the children?”

Mr. Lowenstein’s most recent book is “America’s Bank: The Epic Struggle to Create the Federal Reserve” (Penguin Press, 2015)

Trump’s School-Choice Fight

September 19, 2016

His plan to let money follow the child is a moral and political winner.


Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump speaks at a campaign rally in Colorado Springs, Colorado on Sept. 17.ENLARGE
Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump speaks at a campaign rally in Colorado Springs, Colorado on Sept. 17. PHOTO: REUTERS

If Donald Trump knew that promoting school choice would cause such a ruckus on the left, maybe he’d have weighed in sooner. The Republican nominee has found a winning issue by pitching a plan to “provide school choice to every disadvantaged student in America.” Amen.

During a visit to the Cleveland Arts and Social Sciences Academy, Mr. Trump proposed a $20 billion block grant for states by redirecting federal education money to support charter schools and vouchers. He also endorsed merit pay for teachers and said he’d support local candidates who champion school choice.

Most of the $50 billion or so that the federal government spends on K-12 education is targeted to particular programs like teacher training, and rural and STEM education. About $14 billion in Title I funds are earmarked for disadvantaged students. However, this money doesn’t follow kids to private schools, and states often shortchange charter schools.

Mr. Trump wants to let states use federal funds to boost voucher awards, so parents rather than governments get to choose where the money goes. As he noted in Cleveland, “there is no failed policy more in need of urgent change than our government-run education monopoly.” Judging by the panicky reaction on the left, you’d think he’d proposed eliminating public education.

Hillary Clinton said his block-grant plan would “decimate public schools across America.” Yet $20 billion is merely 3% of what states spend on K-12 education each year and less than the increase in school spending in California since 2012. By the way, charters are public schools—freed of union control.

Mrs. Clinton is showing how far left she has moved on education. President Obama has been hostile to vouchers; recall former Attorney General Eric Holder’s efforts to shut down Louisiana’s voucher program that principally benefits poor black kids. But at least Mr. Obama supported charters, while Mrs. Clinton is now openly hostile to these reform public schools.

Unions and their friends are trying to deflect attention from Mr. Trump’s speech and minority outreach by saying the charter school where he announced his plan received a failing grade on Ohio’s school-progress report card last year. But the charter flunked due to a switch in state tests last year that caused student scores to slump nearly everywhere in the state.

In 2014 about 71% of third graders at Cleveland Arts and Social Sciences Academy were proficient in reading. On the new test 55% rated as proficient. Yet the share of students at Cleveland Arts who scored proficient was still more than twice as high as at Harvey Rice Elementary (which has a similar demographic makeup) down the block. That school got an A on student growth.

It’s ironic that progressives are howling about the charter’s performance on standardized tests, which they usually insist are a poor indicator of school and teacher quality. Why is it that the only schools that unions believe should be held accountable for student performance are those run by their competition? That’s a question Mr. Trump should ask from here to November.

The NAACP vs. Minority Children

August 29, 2016

The outfit takes orders from its union backers to oppose charter schools.

Aug. 26, 2016 6:04 p.m. ET
Interest groups tend to care more about money and influence than the people they represent, but some sellouts deserve special attention. Here’s one: The outfit that helped end segregation in public education now works to trap poor and minority kids in dysfunctional schools.

Cornell William Brooks, President and CEO of the NAACP, at the annual convention on July 18 in Cincinnati, Ohio. ENLARGE
Cornell William Brooks, President and CEO of the NAACP, at the annual convention on July 18 in Cincinnati, Ohio. PHOTO: GETTY IMAGES
Last month the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People introduced a resolution at its national convention in Cincinnati calling for a moratorium on charter schools, which are public but free from union rules and control. The measure also says the NAACP “will continue to advocate against any state or Federal legislation” that “commits or diverts public funding” to private or charter schools. The resolution must be formally adopted at a board meeting later this year.

Some 28% of charter-school students are black, which is almost double the figure for traditional public schools. A report last year from Stanford’s Center for Research on Education Outcomes found that across 41 urban areas black students in charters gained on average 36 extra days in math learning a year and 26 in reading while Hispanic students gained 22 in math and six in reading. Black students in poverty notched 59 more days in math. This is the definition of “advancement.”
The NAACP didn’t bother to ask black parents what they think: A 2013 poll of black voters in four southern states by the Black Alliance for Educational Options found that at least 85% agreed that “government should provide parents with as many choices as possible.” No less than half in every state supported charter schools. Another sign of support is the hundreds of thousands of black students nationwide who sign up for lotteries for a seat at a charter.

The NAACP complains about charter schools’ “disproportionately high use of punitive and exclusionary discipline,” and so do its friends at Black Lives Matter. This is bogus: An American Enterprise Institute report this month matched each charter school’s suspension rate with data for the five nearest traditional schools. More than 50% of charter schools suspended students at rates similar to neighbors, and almost 30% had lower rates than alternatives. The deeper complaint is that charters enforce order, which progressive educators long ago replaced with student-teacher “dialogues.”
The group’s real motive is following orders from its teacher-union patrons. The NAACP in 2011 filed a lawsuit with the United Federation of Teachers to prevent the expansion of some New York City charter schools, which are now driving the Empire State’s educational progress. The National Education Association dropped $100,000 in 2014 for a partnership with the NAACP. The unions expect the NAACP’s help in fending off charter competition.

No one argues that charter schools will fix all that ails American education, but for many families they are an evacuation route from failure factories. Apparently the NAACP doesn’t think black parents deserve that option. The irony is that W.E.B. DuBois founded the place to fight precisely that kind of paternalism and forced inequality.

Poor Children Need a New Brown v. Board of Education

August 29, 2016

Students deserve federal protection from the twisted logic of tenure rules that undermine learning.

Aug. 28, 2016 5:50 p.m. ET
The California Supreme Court announced Aug. 22 that it would not hear Vergara v. California, a landmark case fighting for the educational rights of public-school students. The court’s unwillingness even to consider an issue that Justice Goodwin Liu called “one of the most consequential to the future of California” demonstrates why the federal courts must intervene and recognize that the U.S. Constitution guarantees a fundamental right to education.

Julia Macias, 13, a plaintiff in Vergara v. California, in Los Angeles, June 10. ENLARGE
Julia Macias, 13, a plaintiff in Vergara v. California, in Los Angeles, June 10. PHOTO: NANCY PASTOR/THE WALL STREET JOURNAL
In Vergara, nine students challenged teacher-tenure and dismissal laws that make it nearly impossible for school districts to remove grossly ineffective teachers from the classroom. We were part of the team, along with our partner former U.S. Solicitor General Theodore Olson, who represented the student plaintiffs. After an eight-week bench trial in 2014, Los Angeles County Superior Court Judge Rolf Treu struck down the statutes under the state constitution because their twisted logic is “unfathomable” and they inflict harm so severe that it “shocks the conscience.”

Judge Treu’s decision attracted national attention. Then-Education Secretary Arne Duncan declared that the decision “presents an opportunity for a progressive state with a tradition of innovation to build a new framework for the teaching profession that protects students’ rights to equal educational opportunities while providing teachers the support, respect and rewarding careers they deserve.”

The state of California and California’s two largest teachers unions appealed. In its decision, the California Court of Appeal acknowledged that the laws are a “problem,” agreed that they likely lead to “grossly ineffective teachers being in the educational system,” and described the situation as “deplorable.” The court sided with the unions anyway.

The case seemed destined for the California Supreme Court, but on Aug. 22 the court declined to hear the case by a vote of 4-3. Pursuant to its ordinary procedures, the court did not explain why. Yet two justices took the extraordinary step of issuing dissenting opinions decrying the majority’s failure to act. Justice Liu wrote that “[t]he nine schoolchildren who brought this action, along with the millions of children whose educational opportunities are affected every day by the challenged statutes, deserve to have their claims heard by this state’s highest court.” Justice Mariano-Florentino Cuéllar described the laws as “staggering failures that threaten to turn the right to education for California schoolchildren into an empty promise.”
California’s refusal to protect its young citizens has made federal protection essential. Public education meets the U.S. Supreme Court’s fundamental-right test, as articulated in Washington v. Glucksberg (1997), because it is “deeply rooted in this Nation’s history and tradition” and “implicit in the concept of ordered liberty.” Laws that impair that right should be subject to strict scrutiny under the Constitution’s due-process and equal-protection clauses.

Public education has been a fundamental pillar of U.S. society since the nation’s founding, when the Continental Congress set aside public lands “to support a system of schools in a state.” As the Supreme Court put it in 1954’s historic Brown v. Board of Education ruling: “it is doubtful that any child may reasonably be expected to succeed in life if he [or she] is denied the opportunity of an education.”

Two decades after Brown, the Supreme Court in San Antonio Independent School District v. Rodriguez (1973) held that education is not a fundamental right in the context of school funding. But it expressly left open the possibility that a right to education might be recognized in another situation. In Papasan v. Allain (1986), the court made clear that whether education is a fundamental right is “not yet definitively settled.”

Such a right would not be an open invitation for federal courts to manage schools or for litigants to bring every education policy question to federal court. Rather, it would protect children across the country against state laws and policies that actively and knowingly deprive them of essential educational opportunities and create egregious inequality, like the California statutes in Vergara.

The day after the denial of review in Vergara, we filed a case in Connecticut federal court, Martinez v. Malloy. We argue for a federal constitutional right to challenge laws that force inner-city children to attend schools that the state knows are failing to provide a minimally acceptable education. These laws are especially cruel because Connecticut has some terrific public schools, including in urban centers.

Magnet schools and public charter schools achieve outstanding results for students. Yet Connecticut has defied reason and imposed a moratorium on magnet schools and an effective cap on charter schools. The state also punishes high-quality public schools that accept transfer students from failing schools. Inner-city kids have to win a lottery to gain access to decent schools.

In Brown, the Supreme Court described education as the “very foundation of good citizenship,” and proclaimed that the “opportunity of an education . . . is a right which must be made available to all on equal terms.” The federal courts should transform these powerful words into a reality and enforce the fundamental right of children to education in this country.

Messrs. Boutrous and Lipshutz, partners at Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher LLP, are counsel for the plaintiffs in Vergara v. California and Martinez v. Malloy, and for Students Matter, the nonprofit sponsor of both lawsuits.

Hillary Clinton’s School Choice

August 1, 2016

WSJ Review & Outlook

She used to support charters. Now she’s for the union agenda.

No one would call the 2016 election a battle of ideas, but it will have policy consequences. So it’s worth noting the sharp left turn by Hillary Clinton and Democrats against education reform and the charter schools she and her husband championed in the 1990s.

Mrs. Clinton recently promised a National Education Association (NEA) assembly higher pay, student-loan write-offs, less testing and universal pre-K. She had only this to say about charter schools, which are free from union rules: “When schools get it right, whether they are traditional public schools or public charter schools, let’s figure out what’s working” and “share it with schools across America.”

The crowd booed, so Mrs. Clinton pivoted to deriding “for-profit charter schools,” a fraction of the market whose grave sin is contracting with a management company. Cheering resumed. When she later addressed the other big teachers union, the American Federation of Teachers (AFT), she began with an attack on for-profit charters.

We remember when Mrs. Clinton wasn’t so easily intimidated by unions. Bill Clinton’s grant program took the movement from a few schools to thousands. In Mrs. Clinton’s 1996 memoir, “It Takes a Village,” she wrote that she favored “promoting choice among public schools, much as the President’s Charter Schools Initiative encourages.” And here’s Mrs. Clinton in 1998: “The President believes, as I do, that charter schools are a way of bringing teachers and parents and communities together.”

But now Mrs. Clinton needs the support of the Democratic get-out-the-vote operation known as teacher unions, which loathe charter schools that operate without unions. The AFT endorsed Mrs. Clinton 16 months before Election Day, and the NEA followed.

Shortly after, in a strange coincidence, Mrs. Clinton began repeating union misinformation: “Most charter schools, they don’t take the hardest-to-teach kids,” she said on a South Carolina campaign stop in November. But Mrs. Clinton used to know that nearly all charter schools select students by lottery and are by law not allowed to discriminate. The schools tend to crop up in urban areas where traditional options are worst. A recent study from Stanford University showed that charters better serve low-income children, minority students and kids who are learning English.

There’s an irony in Mrs. Clinton’s pitch that schools should simply share best practices. In 2005 the United Federation of Teachers started a charter school in Brooklyn, N.Y., to prove that unions weren’t holding up success. The school rejected the hallmarks of charter schools like New York’s Success Academy: order, discipline and other concepts progressives view as oppressive. Principals, for instance, were renamed “school leaders.” So how’s that experiment working out? Grades K-8 didn’t meet state standards last year and closed.

Mrs. Clinton’s switcheroo follows the pro-union turn of the Democratic Party platform. This year’s original draft was at least mildly pro-reform, but the final version opposes using test scores to evaluate teachers, encourages parents to opt out of testing for their kids, and endorses multiple restrictions on charters that would make them much less effective.

The education planks caused Peter Cunningham, an assistant secretary in President Obama’s Education Department, to lament that the platform “affirms an education system that denies its shortcomings and is unwilling to address them.” He called it “a step backwards” that will hurt “low-income black and Hispanic children” in particular.

In this election year of bad policy choices, the Democratic retreat from school choice and accountability is the most dispiriting.

Liberals and Equal Protection

June 10, 2016

Will California judges hear a case challenging teacher tenure?

California’s Supreme Court has the opportunity to make a civil-rights breakthrough by agreeing to hear a landmark case that challenges teacher tenure laws on equal protection grounds. Let’s see if the court’s liberals have the courage of their convictions.

Four years ago, nine public school students sued to overturn California’s lifetime teacher job protections and “last-in-first-out” policies, which have concentrated ineffective teachers in poor and minority communities. Reams of evidence in Vergara v. State of California show how disadvantaged students are the most harmed by these laws.

Teachers in California receive tenure after two years, making them nearly impossible to fire. Fewer than 0.002% of teachers statewide are dismissed for unprofessional conduct or poor performance. Thousands are ranked grossly ineffective, yet only about 20 have been terminated over the last decade. In Los Angeles Unified School District, it takes upward of 10 years and between $250,000 to $450,000 to fire a teacher. Administrators typically reassign lousy teachers to less desirable schools in poor areas.

Due to seniority rights, inexperienced teachers are disproportionately assigned to poorer schools. State law also mandates that the newest hires be the first dismissed during budget layoffs regardless of performance. During a recent budget crunch, Oakland laid off 90% of teachers, including many Teach for America alums, in some low-income schools.

A single year with a grossly ineffective teacher can cost a classroom of students $1.4 million in lifetime earnings. Meanwhile, seniority-based layoffs reduce lifetime student earnings by an estimated $2.1 million per teacher laid off. In 2014 Los Angeles County Superior Court Judge Rolf Treu struck down tenure laws, noting that the evidence of their destructive impact “shocks the conscience.”

Yet last month the state’s second appellate court ruled that students harmed by the laws didn’t have enough in common to make an equal-protection claim under California’s constitution. In other words, the disadvantaged students weren’t all black or Hispanic. Yet California’s Supreme Court has held that the mere abridgement of a fundamental state right like education is enough to contest an equal-protection violation.

The appellate court also ruled that the plaintiffs failed to show that the “statutes inevitably cause a certain group of students” to receive an inferior education. Instead, school administrators, albeit hamstrung by the laws, are supposedly to blame. Under this ruling, it would be nearly impossible to make equal-protection claims under the California constitution. A school-funding formula that results in lower-income schools receiving less money couldn’t be challenged. Nor could school-district boundaries that produce segregated schools.

Vergara relies on a statistical disparate-impact analysis that the left uses to bludgeon businesses. We think disparate impact is unconstitutional, but if it’s the law then progressives can’t pick and choose when it applies. The nine students have asked California’s Supreme Court to hear the case, and the future of millions will depend on their decision.