Diane Ravitch, a New York University professor, education historian, author and outspoken critic of the recently adopted Louisiana Scholarship Program, otherwise known as the voucher program, blasts state Superintendent John White in her latest blog entry, which was picked up by The Washington Post — an indication that Gov. Bobby Jindal’s “bold” plan for privatizing public education in the Bayou State is getting the critical, national scrutiny it deserves.

“I debated whether to give this blog post the title you see or to call it ‘State Commissioner of Education John White Acknowledges That He Doesn’t Know How to Improve Schools,’” Ravitch writes in the introduction of an essay she would ultimately title “Vouchers and the future of public education.” The essay echoes many of the concerns expressed by this newspaper and editorial pages across the state, namely that parochial schools with dubious — at best — education standards and piss-poor facilities will drain public schools of invaluable financial resources and that public dollars are poised to underwrite unabashedly religious, anti-secular curricula.

But it is in her unravelling of White’s logic defending the voucher program where Ravitch’s essay is most brutally effective:

Commissioner John White defends the radical privatization scheme, saying that: “I know the governor and bill authors had the goal in mind of improving student achievement,” White said. “The importance of that has been highlighted in studies which show the economic sustainability of a state is predicated on education, and we are dead last in the number of students growing up in communities with at least one parent with a college education.” Follow the logic here. If Louisiana ranks last in parent education, is that a strong argument for choice? Or for a higher level of professionalism and quality in the public schools? You decide.

Ouch! But Ravitch is far from done skewering our youthful super’s reasoning:

Commissioner John White told the Reuters reporter: “To me, it’s a moral outrage that the government would say, ‘We know what’s best for your child,’ ” White said. “Who are we to tell parents we know better?”

Let’s deconstruct that statement. The state commissioner of education said right here that he doesn’t know what’s best for children. He doesn’t know what children or schools should be doing. It is not up to him to tell schools what is best regarding curriculum and instruction. He has no responsibility to improve schools, only to close then and to provide the wherewithal so that parents can leave them and take their public money anywhere they want.

What he means is that any parent in the state of Louisiana, regardless of their own education, knows more than he does about education. Would you want a doctor who told you that it was up to you to decide which medicine you should take when you were ill? Or a lawyer who said you should write your own defense? Or a golf instructor who told you to hold the club anyway that you wanted? Why do people get degrees and become professional if they don’t know any more than people who have no professional training?

Maybe John White is right. Maybe every parent in Louisiana knows more about education than he does, even those who didn’t finish high school. Maybe he doesn’t know what good instruction and good curriculum look like. But why is he in charge of education if he doesn’t know these things?

Read the whole essay, which is laden with examples of what some children are currently being taught in parochial schools, here.

                                                                                                                           Photo by Robin May

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