Thursday, November 29, 2007

Where is Patrick Byrne going next?

During the past three weeks, three things have been true. One is that I have lost the sense of amazement or surprise that I used to feel when I would read Patrick Byrne's comments in the newspaper, or his guest commentaries. Someone else, after taking a few days to think about it, might have apologized for the sort of comments he made about voters on Election Night. Far from apologizing, Mr. Byrne makes matters worse each time he publishes something new, and it's not surprising anymore. It's unfortunate that he is the way he is, but that apparently can't be changed. All we can do is to be aware of him ourselves, and to make others aware of him so they're not caught off-guard when he comes to their city or state.

The second true thing is that I've appreciated very much the many notes that readers have left here and in my email. The complimentary ones have far outnumbered the other sort, though even the other sort have shown that people cared so much about the matter to read even my notes about it. I didn't really intend for my notes to grow like they did, but I confess I got carried away with (or addicted to?) this issue once I started looking at it. As I've written before, I learned a lot from writers who had been studying the issue far longer than I have, so I pass credit on to them.

The third thing is that I've enjoyed spending time away from my computer. It's a good thing the holiday season is here because they give me great opportunities to break this addiction. Before it's completely broken, though, I want to add tonight's note.

Since the election, I have corresponded with Pat Rusk, who was one of the spokespeople for Utahns for Public Schools. I mentioned her here very early in my notes, and I read her comments in newspaper articles throughout this year, but I developed a better appreciation for her when I saw and listened to her in person in one of the debates with Richard Eyre. What struck me was that she said, at the start, that she wasn't a debater -- she was a teacher participating in a debate. For me, she came across that evening as sincere and knowledgeable, not "slick."

So, I was humbled to receive warm regards from Mrs. Rusk after Election Night. And I was gratified when she asked if I would read a guest commentary she has written, and if I would publish it if I agreed with it. I did read it, I do agree with it, and I'm happy to post it here:

By Pat Rusk

On Election Day earlier this month, Patrick Byrne, the CEO of, and an ardent supporter of private school vouchers, claimed Utah’s vouchers referendum was an IQ test for Utahns – a test they presumably failed when they rejected the plan by a 24-point margin that Tuesday.

What a tremendous insult to Utahns. We don’t need our IQs assessed by a millionaire businessmen with more of an interest in right-wing politics than in the future of our communities and schools.

When pro-voucher forces brought their voucher plan to Utah – which ranks dead last nationally in per-pupil spending and has the largest class sizes in the country – we knew they were looking not for education solutions, but rather just to push a narrow political ideology.

You see, many Utah legislators have long made public schools far too low a priority, as evidenced by such abysmal funding levels. Utah schools have done remarkably well in spite of their funding challenges, but the bottom line is that the flawed voucher plan put before Utahns this year did not address any real challenges in the state. Instead, it just promised to spend much needed resources elsewhere: in unaccountable, inaccessible private voucher schools.

And, contrary to what we’ve been hearing from voucher proponents, they just cannot provide any credible research showing that students in private schools do better than their counterparts in public schools. In fact, a 2006 U.S. Department of Education study of Washington, D.C.’s voucher program and a 2001 U.S. General Accounting Office study of Cleveland and Milwaukee’s voucher schools found no significant differences between academic achievement of private school and public school students. Proponents also suggest vouchers benefit poor and urban students but a report released this October from the Center on Education Policy found these students generally do no better in voucher schools than in public schools.

Instead of an unproven vouchers program that would just divert much needed resources away from public schools to unaccountable private schools, what we really need in Utah and across the country is to work together to provide education solutions for all students. We should be investing our effort and money to reduce class size, provide textbooks and supplies, and attract strong, qualified teachers to the profession.

Utah voters reiterated their support for public schools on November 6th when they so clearly rejected the flawed vouchers plan.

So, this begs the question: if pro-voucher interests can’t force vouchers in Utah, which was widely rumored to be a testing ground for such a plan, where can they force them?

The day after suffering such a dramatic defeat, two weeks ago, Byrne announced plans to take his vouchers campaigns to other states, with the first stop in South Carolina.

South Carolinians beware: Byrne is coming for you and your public schools next. I can only hope South Carolinians too “fail” Byrne’s vouchers test.

Mrs. Rusk, thank you again for your work (and for reading!).