The Clarion-Ledger recently posted a guest column by Grant Callen, president of the Koch Brothers-funded Empower Mississippi titled, “Callen: Poll shows Mississippians want school choice.”
In the first paragraph, Callen lists education reforms adopted by the Mississippi legislature. The Equal Opportunity for Students with Special Needs Act, the Charter School Act, the Literacy-Based Promotion Act and A-F Grading System for all schools and school districts are all noted. Each of these reforms are based on model legislation from the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), which is an organization that connects legislators to corporations and encourages corporate friendly legislation. ALEC is also heavily funded by the Koch Brothers.
Callen goes on to accuse the “educational establishment” as opposing these reforms in order to protect the status quo. He claims that the most recent elections, where school choice-friendly legislators were elected, proves that Mississippians do want school choice. To further his claim, he references a poll “from OnMessage Inc., a highly respected national polling firm.”
OnMessage Inc., is a political consulting company in Alexandria, VA, that boasts the Alliance for School Choice, the Walton Family Foundation, Governor Bobby Jindal, and Lieutenant Governor Tate Reeves as clients. This company claims to “play aggressive offense.” The website even states, “And most of all, we’re in it to win.” This company makes money influencing voters. On the page of the website that refers to opinion research, the company states, “We take your principles, your experience, and your opponent’s weaknesses to develop a winning message plan that the voters will embrace.”
Next, Callen ventures into brain research, claiming, “Advancements in brain science have taught us that every child learns differently.” He claims public schools produce “widgets” and do not cater to individuals because of the way they test students. This is interesting considering two of the reforms he touted at the beginning of the post are based on student test scores. Both the A-F Grading System and the Literacy-Based Promotion Act mandate specific testing. He also states, “Schools should be as unique as the students and communities they serve.” Again, it is interesting how the other two reforms on which he brags, the Charter School Act and the Equal Opportunity for Students with Special Needs Act, both remove students from their actual communities and community schools.
Callen also writes, “Choice is not an attack on public schools and has never been about privatizing education; it is about creating a vibrant marketplace of high quality education options — public, private and charter — and empowering parents to choose the best setting for their child.” However, in a widely circulated article that originated with the Associated Press, Callen stated, “It’s going to take some time for the private marketplace to develop,” and that Empower Mississippi will lobby the Mississippi Legislature to find a way to subsidize students who already attend private schools.
Finally, Callen claims that, “cities and states with strong school choice programs have seen significant achievement gains in their public schools as increased student options encourages them to be more competitive.” Callen does not cite his source for this information. He also fails to acknowledge any sources that address financial and demographic shifts that have a damaging impact on public schools as a result of school choice policies.
The many contradictory statements made by Callen as a representative of Empower Mississippi, combined with negative remarks about the “educational establishment,” which consists of educators, parents, and community members, is concerning if we are to trust that they truly have the best interests of all children in the state of Mississippi at heart.
Amanda Koonlaba is an elementary art teacher in Tupelo, MS. She is a contributor to MSEdBlog. Her views are her own and do not represent the views of any other entity.