school choice

In-depth NPR analysis of Indiana voucher program mostly gets education, but not religion

In-depth NPR analysis of Indiana voucher program mostly gets education, but not religion

Fifteen to 20 years ago, I was much better educated on school choice trends than I am now.

While covering public schools for The Oklahoman in 1999, I did a months-long special project — as part of an Education Writers Association national fellowship — titled "Winners & Losers: School Choice in Oklahoma City." I also covered the school voucher debate that still rages today.

Given my background — ancient as it may be — in education writing, I was interested in an in-depth package that NPR ran last week exploring "The Promise and Peril of School Vouchers" in Indiana.

At first blush, the NPR report struck me as tilted toward the anti-voucher side, partly because of the lede favoring a public school official:

Wendy Robinson wants to make one thing very clear.
As the long-serving superintendent of Fort Wayne public schools, Indiana's largest district, she is not afraid of competition from private schools.
"We've been talking choice in this community and in this school system for almost 40 years," Robinson says. Her downtown office sits in the shadow of the city's grand, Civil War-era Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception. In Fort Wayne, a parking lot is the only thing that separates the beating heart of Catholic life from the brains of the city's public schools.
In fact, steeples dominate the skyline of the so-called City of Churches. Fort Wayne has long been a vibrant religious hub, home to more than 350 churches, many of which also run their own schools.
While the city's public and private schools managed, for decades, to co-exist amicably, that changed in 2011, Robinson says. That's when state lawmakers began the Indiana Choice Scholarship Program, a plan to allow low-income students to use vouchers, paid for with public school dollars, to attend private, generally religious schools.
Six years later, Indiana's statewide voucher program is now the largest of its kind in the country and, with President Trump and Education Secretary Betsy DeVos openly encouraging states to embrace private school choice, the story of the Choice Scholarship — how it came to be, how it works and whom it serves — has become a national story of freedom, faith, poverty and politics.

That phrase "paid for with public school dollars" also hit me the wrong way. My question for NPR: Are those "public school dollars" or "taxpayer dollars?" If I'm a parent who pays taxes, why shouldn't I be able to choose where I want my education money to go — be it a public school or a public one?

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Information behind DeVos irony: NBC News discovers that liberal homeschoolers do exist

Information behind DeVos irony: NBC News discovers that liberal homeschoolers do exist

Back in the days of intense Harry Potter warfare, I wrote an "On Religion" column in which a very articulate mother explained why she was seriously considering homeschooling her child.

First of all, she said it was clear that her local public schools didn't take religion all that seriously. A kind of watered-down faith was OK, but she was sure that her family's intense religious beliefs and traditions would clash with the culture in nearby schools. She didn't want to have to compromise her family's beliefs in order to fit in.

Then there those omnipresent books about a certain young wizard. She told me: 

"The whole Harry Potter thing has just taken off and glamorized everything. It makes it seem like all of this is about spells and magic. ... It can be hard to get children to remember that what we're about is faith and spirituality. ... Many pagan parents consider Harry Potter a mixed blessing."

This mother, you see, was part of the Order of Bards, Ovates and Druids and the author of a book called "Pagan Parenting." And she was preparing for life as a homeschooling mom.

I thought about this anecdote when I read the NBCNews.com piece that ran with this headline: "DeVos Backlash Sees Parents Threatening to Homeschool Kids."

All kinds of people were passing this URL around online, laughing at the irony of that statement. However, it quickly became clear that reporter Jon Schuppe not only saw the irony, but understood it. Here is the overture on this surprisingly nuanced piece: 

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Do we cover hypocrisy consistently?

It is my fallen nature that causes me to delight in stories about hypocrisy. We are all hypocrites if we use that term to mean we behave in ways contrary to the ideals we espouse. Technically that’s not what hypocrisy means. Rather it refers to claiming to believe something different than what one believes. Or as Wikipedia puts it “Hypocrisy is the state of pretending to have virtues, moral or religious beliefs, principles, etc., that one does not actually have.” It involves deception.

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