, Corbin, KY


December 6, 2013

School-choice critics intimidate but won’t debate

CORBIN — Ken Wilber wrote: “Most of us are only willing to call 5% of our present information into question (at) any one point.”

Then there is the closed-minded leadership of the Kentucky Education Association, Jefferson County Teachers Association, Kentucky School Boards Association and Kentucky Association of School Superintendents who, when it comes to school choice, won’t even question that much.

Alan Claypool, founder of TAC4 Solutions, contacted these groups to find an opponent willing to publicly debate University of Kentucky education professor and charter-school advocate Wayne Lewis, Ph.D., about the merits of school choice.

Obstructionists operate in the Kentucky General Assembly’s dark shadows, quietly warning politicians not to support public charter schools for poor parents with children trapped in mediocre or even failing schools while also impugning the motives of those like myself who wonder: What’s wrong with breaking the educational chains for our most at-risk kids so they, too, can live the American dream?

These groups may be good at bullying politicians and disputing the motives of liberty loving Kentuckians, but they are utterly incapable of defending their opposition to charter schools in a civilized debate format — such as the approach conducted by TAC4 — with enforced ground rules, including: “Assume positive intent from all on the other side.”

Labor bosses at the state’s educational labor unions accuse school-choice supporters of wanting to destroy public schools, of making up statistics and lying.

If that, in fact, is true, then shouldn’t these educational elitists be intensely interested in making their case about why Kentucky parents should not have what families in 42 other states and that’s allowed even in the liberal environment of the nation’s capital: a choice of public education for parents of children trapped in mediocre or failing schools who cannot afford the tuition of a private school?

Like the incumbent who’s held the seat long enough to carry on a generations-long romance with the status quo, the elitists who form the core of Kentucky’s educational establishment are amazingly unwilling to meet the challenger.

Forward-thinking Kentuckians wonder: What’s the incumbent hiding? Incompetence? Fear? Ideological obsession?

For Linda Duncan, a longtime member of the Jefferson County school board who committed to debate Lewis and then rudely backed out at the last minute – right on the cusp of a holiday weekend — it’s apparently all three.

Ducan said she was getting internal pressure — no doubt from the central office of a school district, where there is, on average, a 20-point gap in math proficiency rates between white and black students at every school level — elementary, middle and high schools.

That district’s rulers don’t want their subjects appearing on a stage anywhere in the River City with anyone of Lewis’ credibility and stature.

Claypool announced at the debate that Duncan at the last minute said she just didn’t “know enough” about charter schools and therefore “wasn’t the right person” to do the debate. She also failed to keep her promise to find a suitable replacement.

Voters in future school-board elections might want to question why Duncan doesn’t know if charters would help her district. They might also wonder: Why wouldn’t she do everything possible — including speaking out against them — in order to protect her constituents from such supposedly evil machinations?

Duncan’s amateurish antics are among symptoms too often displayed by Kentucky’s education-system bosses — not having the information they need; not doing their job and finding out if public charter schools might help their students; closing their minds to anything that doesn’t suit the labor bosses at the educational unions; driving decisions for the convenience of the adults and not the betterment of students; and generally operating with the attitude expressed by Voltaire: “One day everything will be well, that is our hope. Everything’s fine today, that is our illusion.”  

Jim Waters is president of the Bluegrass Institute, Kentucky’s free-market think tank. Reach him at Read previously published columns at

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