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The week in school choice: The rights of children

Less than a week ago, California’s high court dealt a pair of blows to efforts to improve public education through litigation, declining to hear cases dealing with funding equity and the state’s teacher tenure laws.

The next day, backers of the tenure fight moved into a new arena, arguing in federal court that a lack of access to charter schools and other options violates Connecticut students’ right to a high-quality education.

[Students Matter founder David] Welch said Tuesday that while he was disappointed in that outcome, he was pleased with the way the tenure challenge — known as Vergara v. California — had generated debate over reforming tenure laws both in California’s legislature and in education and policy circles nationwide.

And he said he hopes the Connecticut lawsuit has the same rippling effect.

Many who agree with the arguments in these cases still question whether they’ll truly guarantee students’ right to a high-quality education. It may be worth looking at other avenues to codify such a right.


New polling by Democrats for Education Reform suggests efforts to raise the charter school cap in Massachusetts have the support of rank-and-file Democrats. But the state party opposes them. A similar disconnect also shows up the new, national poll from Education Next. Both findings suggest the negativity about charters isn’t working.

In Massachusetts, Elizabeth Warren declines to take a firm stand on the charter question.

The nation’s largest private school choice program may also be its best-designed. And it’s growing faster than ever. (Disclosure: my employer helps administer it.)

The Southern Poverty Law Center goes after charter schools in court.

A call for greater charter school diversity:

We know that no-excuses schools don’t suit every child or family seeking alternatives to woeful neighborhood options. Some balk at this model’s rigid practices, which can yield great test scores but don’t necessarily cultivate qualities of character, creativity, and deep understanding. Critics also fret that no-excuses schools don’t do a great job of preparing young people for the independence and self-management they’ll need to thrive in college and beyond. It’s also a fact that, because they provide additional services and all those extra hours, no-excuses schools typically need more money than is generally supplied by regular charter funding streams. This adds a special fundraising burden to a sector that already receives nearly 30 percent less per pupil in operating dollars than do nearby district schools—and that, in many places, also gets no help with the cost of facilities.

Michael Horn writes about ways to maximize the benefits of virtual education while reining in its downsides:

Ultimately, as I’ve written, virtual schools must step up their game. Although it’s unlikely they will ever grow to educate more than 5 to 10 percent of K–12 students, given the important service they provide for many individual students and families, we need to better understand the value they are delivering. Harnessing their benefits while [sic] reigning in their downsides is critical.

Virtual schools are expected to follow federal special education rules.

Too many students lack access to physics and computer science courses.

Fighting political correctness and ending school segregation.

Charter school critics cheered a John Oliver HBO segment, which reserved no f-bombs for the deeper problems facing public education. It relied on an outdated reading of past news clippings from Florida, Ohio and elsewhere. A quick note on form for those who think a TV comedian doesn’t warrant a substantive response: Oliver’s segment wasn’t really satire. It was mostly political commentary, laced with tangential jokes.

Calling all “millennial hipsters that find John Oliver funny”: Chris Stewart would like to buy you chicken dinner.

Have ed reformers forgotten how to fight?

Armchair psychology is a dangerous game, but my best hunch is that a kind of moral panic has set in among reformers (on both sides of the aisle but particularly on the left) who have suffered – and suffered mostly in silence – a series of stinging rebukes from those, particularly in the civil rights community, who ought to be their most stalwart champions, yet who cannot be comfortably challenged. It’s deeply odd, if you think about it: reform, long marked by a pugnacious, crusading rhetorical style may be losing both its will to fight and its ability to differentiate between genuine threats and mere irritants.

Parts of that diagnosis may ring true, especially on the national stage. But consider the battles waged, and victories won, this year from Olympia to Tallahassee and many states in between.

Tweets of the Week

This Week in School Choice is our weekly compendium of news and notes from around the country. Sign up to get it in your inbox, and send tips, feedback or pushback to tpillow[at]sufs[dot]org.

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BY Travis Pillow

Travis Pillow is Director of Thought Leadership at Step Up For Students and editor of NextSteps. He lives in Sanford, Fla. with his wife and two children. A former Tallahassee statehouse reporter, he most recently worked at the Center on Reinventing Public Education, a research organization at Arizona State University, where he studied community-led learning innovation and school systems' responses to the Covid-19 pandemic. He can be reached at tpillow (at)