Wednesday, June 09, 2010

Liberal grit in the fight for school choice

It's quite noteworthy what a chapter of the Anti-Defamation League, which has vociferously opposed school choice, instead embraces it:

But while there may be nothing extraordinary about conservatives or libertarians embracing school choice, it takes real grit for liberals or Democrats to do so. Especially when they do so from within ADL.

Three months ago, the executive committee of ADL's Philadelphia chapter voted overwhelmingly in favor of a resolution endorsing vouchers. Now it is urging the entire organization to follow suit.

"We believe school choice to be an urgent civil rights issue,'' the committee argued in a brief being circulated among ADL's 30 regional offices. Despite decades of increased spending on K-12 education, "the evidence that our public education system is failing to educate our children is staggering.'' ADL should reverse its longtime position "as a moral imperative,'' the Philadelphia leadership urges, and "issue a resolution in favor of school choice.''

As it happens, the ADL regional board isn't the only liberal voice in Philadelphia calling for expanded school choice. State Senator Anthony Williams, a black Democrat and a candidate in Pennsylvania's gubernatorial primary this week, is the founder of a charter school, a champion of vouchers, and an ardent believer in the power of competition to improve the quality of education. His position puts him sharply at odds with the state's largest teachers' union, which opposes choice and has endorsed his main opponent. But Williams — like the local ADL leadership — sees school choice as the great civil rights battle of the day.

"Anybody who was for Brown v. Board of Education — it baffles me that they would be against vouchers,'' he told me last week. "Brown condemned schools that were separate and unequal. Well, that's exactly what we're back to now — schools that are segregated by income, by ZIP code, by race.''

Of the 20,000 children who annually enter Philadelphia kindergartens, he notes, almost half will drop out before finishing high school — and fewer than 2,000 will go to college. The way to fix the worst public schools isn't to shower them with more money, he says. It is to empower parents to pull their children out and enroll them in better schools elsewhere.


Liberal grit in the fight for school choice

Unexpected voices join the battle to improve the quality of education

By Jeff Jacoby

Globe Columnist / May 16, 2010

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