By Larry Sand
LOS ANGELES – Last week, via the blogosphere, we learned that education reform leader Michelle Rhee sends one of her two kids to a private school. One post asks the question, “Should we care?”
Through StudentsFirst, Rhee champions the best education opportunities for all kids whether they be traditional public, charter or private schools. Additionally, she is in favor of vouchers or opportunity scholarships. As chancellor of Washington D.C. schools from 2007-2010, she sent her kids to a public school. But now one of her two daughters (both of whom live in Tennessee with her first husband) goes to a private school. Hence, she is not doing anything for her own kids that she wouldn’t advocate for any other parent.
Then we have “parent advocate” Leonie Haimson. As reported by the GothamSchools blog last week,
Leonie Haimson’s career as a New York City education activist started when her older child was assigned to a first-grade class with 28 other students. That was in 1996, and since then, Haimson has advocated for public school parents — through her organization, Class Size Matters; the blog and online mailing lists she runs; and the national parent group she helped launch.
But her personal stake changed last summer, when Haimson ceased to be a public school parent. Her younger child started at a private high school in September, following a trajectory from public to private school that her older child, now an adult, also took.
If it’s okay for activist Rhee to send one of her kids to a private school, why not activist Haimson? The answer is that Haimson, founder of Class Size Matters, who also fronts a faux parent advocacy group called Parents Across America, doesn’t want your kids to have the same opportunity that hers do. She is anti-charter, anti-voucher, anti-any choice and wants to force your kids to stay in public schools no matter how awful they may be. In other words, she is a hypocrite. As an editorial in the New York Poststates,
Guess who sends her kids to private school when they reach high school age? That’s right: longtime public school parent-activist Leonie Haimson.
Fine by us. Like any parent, she’s entitled to do what’s best for her children — and private schools by and large provide more, and often better, choices for city kids.
But what about parents who want similar choices yet don’t have the resources? Increasingly, they turn to charter schools — public schools with more rigorous standards and non-union staffs.
… Haimson specifically cites her pet issue: smaller class sizes in private schools. (She runs the group Class Size Matters.) Yet, even though charters often have smaller classes, she continues to fight them.
Haimson is also against colocating charters in traditional public school space, despite the fact that charters don’t receive public funds to build or lease facilities.
What the Post editorial doesn’t mention is that Haimson is a member in good standing of the National Education Association Church, which is hardly surprising since she is in part bankrolled by the union. She consistently mouths teacher union dogma – bashing school choice, defending tenure and seniority, insisting that smaller classes are the sine qua non of reform – and even has gone so far as to defend the Chicago Teachers Union and its outrageous strike last September.
As Democrats for Education Reform president Joe Williams said,
She keeps choosing to defend the same awful schools she would never allow her kids to attend.
Not surprisingly, Diane Ravitch, who is on the Class Size Matters board and has been paid handsomely as an NEA spokesperson, rushed to defend Haimson with some incoherent comments:
You can see why powerful people would want to discredit her. She is a force, she has a large following, and she threatens them.
Consider the premise of the article: only public school parents may advocate for public schools.
This is classic corporate reform ideology. Corporate reformers use this specious ideology to argue for the parent trigger, claiming that the school belongs to the parents and they should be “empowered” to seize control and give it to a charter corporation.
Classic corporate reform ideology? Huh?!
Perhaps Dropout Nation’s RiShawn Biddle sums it up best,
… it is nice to see GothamSchools’ Geoff Decker do stellar work in breaking news yesterday on this contradiction between Haimson’s public criticism of expanding school choice and her very private decision to embrace it. And even nicer to see how her fellow traditionalists (including Ravitch) are attempting to justify her … instead of arguing for providing poor and minority families with the range of options to which Haimson (along with many of them) avails herself. This matter speaks louder than words to their amorality and intellectual charlatanism.
One other thing. Wondering about the name of Haimson’s organization Class Size Matters? In most cases it doesn’t. But gross hypocrisy always does.
Larry Sand, a former classroom teacher, is the president of the non-profit California Teachers Empowerment Network – a non-partisan, non-political group dedicated to providing teachers with reliable and balanced information about professional affiliations and positions on educational issues.