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Some School Choice-ers Have Defeatist Attitude

 “Since 1995 the average mathematics score for fourth-graders jumped 11 points. At this rate we catch up with Singapore in a little over 80 years . . . assuming they don’t improve.”

– Norman R. Augustine, retired CEO of Lockheed Martin

Let’s keep that quote from a recent George Will column in mind as the school choice debate unfolds.


Even in a bad housing market, if someone were to initially offer his home at the lowest acceptable price, he would be called an idiot.  And rightly so.

Likewise, negotiators never come to the table with their bottom line proposal. Doing so would be pointless — obviously — since they would be leaving themselves no negotiating room.

It’s Business 101: you set the bar high, and work downward, if need be. It doesn’t get any simpler.

Which makes the current school choice bill in the State Senate, SB 1, all the more puzzling.  Since true choice would be made available only to low-income students, and that’s after a three-year phase-in, the bill would be almost totally ineffectual, affecting an extremely small number of primarily urban students.

Given that Pennsylvania students rank near the bottom in several important categories, such as SAT scores, the only way to right the ship is to enact a statewide, comprehensive school choice program.  Since choice only works if the vast majority of students and schools are able to participate, and there seem to be the votes for that type of program, why the bar is being set so artificially low remains a mystery.

But a good bet is that sponsors Jeff Piccola (R) and Anthony Williams (D) simply didn’t do their homework on the make-up of the new legislature, choosing to dust off an old bill rather than craft a better, more inclusive one.

Because of its limited scope, it’s a bill many view as destined to fail. To think suburban and rural legislators will put up a tough vote for SB 1 — despite none of their constituents realizing school choice — and, as a reward, face well-financed union-backed opponents in next year’s elections is just naïve.

So it is somewhat surprising that some school choice advocates on the Right have reacted so illogically to Freindly Fire’s criticism of that bill (as detailed in last week’s column).

If that defeatist attitude is pervasive within the ranks of the Republican base, one thing is certain: the entire agenda of new Governor Tom Corbett and the GOP-dominated House and Senate will be jeopardized. It’s like being pregnant — you are or you aren’t.  You either push hard to truly solve the state’s unprecedented problems, or you willingly give up your political leverage, compromising your way to meaningless solutions via the Business as Usual approach.

And anyone who thinks the budget deficit, pension bomb and liquor privatization issues can be solved by bowing to insider tactics rooted in political minutia is just whistling Dixie.

While education should never be a partisan issue, school choice is more widely supported by Republicans.  So if you can’t pass meaningful legislation with solid GOP majorities in both chambers and a very friendly Governor, you might as well pack it up and turn off the lights. 

So let’s take a look at the misguided talking points some proponents are advocating:

SB 1 helps a wide range of students.

The sponsors’ rhetoric simply doesn’t match the substance.  Senators Piccola and Williams talk a great game, saying…..

Read the rest at Philadelphia Magazine’s Philly Post:

Chris Freind is an independent columnist, television commentator, and investigative reporter who operates his own news bureau,

Readers of his column, “Freindly Fire,” hail from six continents, thirty countries and all fifty states. His work has been referenced in numerous publications including The Wall Street Journal, National Review Online, foreign newspapers, and in Dick Morris’ recent bestseller “Catastrophe.”

Freind, whose column appears nationally in Newsmax, also serves as a guest commentator on Philadelphia-area talk radio shows, and makes numerous other television and radio appearances, most notably on FOX.  He can be reached at

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February 2, 2011 at 2:27 pm
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