Ep. 153: Mean Tweets with Robert Enlow and Drew Catt

December 19, 2019

In the first episode of our Mean Tweets series, Robert Enlow and Drew Catt read tweets and offer commentary and insight regarding some of the top issues in education. For a different podcast experience, check out the video recording of this episode.

Robert Enlow: Good afternoon and welcome to another podcast from EdChoice. In a nod to Jimmy Kimmel, we’re doing our first ever EdChoice Mean Tweets. We get a lot of mean tweets here at EdChoice as you might imagine, and I’m sure you do around the world as well if you support educational freedom. And so our thought is we’re going to read some of them out and have some fun with them, because there are some doozies here. Before we start though, I do want to make sure, I’m going to quote my deepest friend now that I can think of and that is Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson.

When we think about mean tweets and when we think about what we do, he got an award recently and he said, “It’s nice to be important, but it’s more important to be nice.” So, we’re going to try to be nice when we deal with these mean tweets, but I can promise you some of the ones that come towards us aren’t that nice. So, we’re excited to start this new series, and it’s going to be fun and we’re going to try and have a laugh and then talk about some of the serious issues that they bring up.

@boomhauer88 says, in a fit of amazing clarity, “Education has got to be one of the most ****** up things in this country.”
Yeah, yeah, I agree. Totally. We’ve got to do something about it. We all good on that one?

Drew Catt: Yeah.

Robert Enlow: Good. Well done, mean tweet.

Drew Catt: No Name, or @StDruther says, “Tired of hearing public schools are crap. Public schools are not crap. Public schools are UNDER FUNDED.” That’s all caps right there. “Looking forward to the day that education receives all the money it needs and the Pentagon has to hold a bake sale to buy a bomber.”
Me too. Here’s the thing, though. How much money does education need?

Robert Enlow: More. This guy clearly things more, because he doesn’t know the numbers of how much money education has been funded at over time. So, Drew, I know you know this. How much money has public education received in the last 25 years or so?

Drew Catt: I’m not going to say cumulative, but I can say the most recent per people statistic, just operational spending, what they call current spending, it’s about $12,200 per student in America.

Robert Enlow: Per student. And you know it’s about half of every single state budget in the country, so every single state budget spends about half its dollars on public education. Now that’s been going up, too, and we know that since the ’70s what is it about three and a half times inflation, maybe even four times? So, it’s not that they’re underfunded. Maybe it’s that we have too much bureaucracy. Maybe it’s that too much government’s involved and not enough money’s being spent wisely. Because frankly, what I’d like to know, and No nName you should ask this question, is how are you spending the money? Not how much money do you get, but how are you spending it? Because no one’s saying all public schools are crap. We’re saying that public schools have a lot more money than you think and you should ask where the money goes.

Drew Catt: They’re also probably, in the sheer majority of people who drastically underestimate how much is spent on public school.

Robert Enlow: This is my favorite, right? So hey, let’s talk about are underfunded public schools, that actually people think only get $3,000 a student or less, when in fact they get 12,200 or more on average based on the US statistics. They get $3,000. I mean that’s just not the truth, and people should understand and they should go to the USDOE website that has been there since the, I don’t know, dawn of the USDOE website, and you can look at all of the numbers over time and see how much money kids get per student. Per state too.

Drew Catt: Yeah. I remember sitting in on a focus group or watching a focus group rather, not sitting in the room myself, and hearing a mom say that she thought that the school spent $100 per student per year. It was jaw-dropping.

Robert Enlow: See, I kind of feel like I got to go Dr. Evil here—$100, right? I mean, this is just ridiculous. I mean, we know this. We know that’s not being spent. And No Name, while we appreciate that we want to have a conversation about how we fund education, it’s not that we’re really underfunded, it’s just that we’re not using the money very well. So, as a mean tweet, it’s a good start, but I would go deeper.

Drew Catt: So, from @nevrsurrendr, clearly someone who is a fan of Churchill and all things British, he says, “Run away as fast as you can. More of our tax dollars given to people who don’t earn it. Time to stop privatization. The only ones who get screwed are us.”

Robert Enlow: All right, @nevrsurrendr. Here’s what I would say to that. I agree with your last sentence. The only one who’s getting screwed are us. That’s because we have an education system that isn’t working for all families. All families aren’t getting in where they fit in. We’re not having a system that actually allows for higher performance over time, that allows for families to go where it works best for them. But as for privatization and tax dollars going to people who don’t earn it. Let’s have a conversation about that one. I assume that you really thought the government funded everything to do with the moon landing, right? Because it was only the government did that. There were no private companies involved with making rockets. No private companies like Raytheon involved with all the work we do. No private companies that do all the work in our public schools now. Right?

If you think about how much money goes to our private and public sectors, right? A lot of it goes to our private sector already in traditional public schools. So, who do you think makes money out of building schools? Who do you think makes money out of supplying schools? Those must be privatizers, too. Unless you only believe that public dollars should be used by government at its own bequest and in its own way, as it’s supposed to families. And if that’s the case, then I assume you hate Pell Grants, I assume you hate the GI bill and surely you don’t take any Medicaid, because that’s also government money going to private individuals to make a choice of where they go.

So, look, the question about timing and time to run away and stop privatization. I think the question is, maybe we should have a real understanding about how money is spent in education.

Drew Catt: And the whole privatization thing. I’ve never really bought it. So, having studied nonprofit management, philanthropic studies, this isn’t privatization, it’s nonprofitization. These are 501(c)(3) schools.

Robert Enlow: Which, by the way, you could make an argument that nonprofitization is worse than privatization, right? Because at least in privatization, there’s some kind of motive. In nonprofitization there’s, “Well, I hope they do good. I hope they feel good. I hope there’s something positive about the world,” as opposed to the incentive of, “If I don’t do this, then I’m going to actually fail as a business.”

Drew Catt: Or there’s the sake of making people better for the sake of making people better, and not for a testing company, just trying to satisfy their stakeholders.

Robert Enlow: Look, we all know what the road to hell is paved with, it’s paved with good intentions. And so our question here is really to have an honest conversation about what it means to run a system of education in this country. And when we talk about running a system of education in this country that’s mostly run through tax dollars, right? To public entities to run government run schools or state run schools, right? Or district run schools, state and district run schools is what they are, right? So, clearly your money is going up from individuals who are private citizens to the government, right? To state and district governments, right? And so those state and district governments spend that money in more ways than you think on a lot of private companies.

Again, let’s work our way through the list. Realty companies, architecture firms, building companies, fence companies, testing companies, text book companies. The list goes on and on. And I’m assuming that’s not the kind of privatization you’re talking about, @nevrsurrendr. So, I guess we’re going to have a conversation about this. Let’s have an honest conversation about what it really means to never surrender.

Drew Catt: @jdouglaslittle decided to put us in good company by tweeting, “@EducationNext, @Paul_E_Peterson, @edchoice Vouchers and charters are no better than public schools. They are a giant waste of time, resources, energy. No really successful nation uses them to achieve excellence. Equity in education creates excellence.”

Drew Catt: Let’s drill this one down a little bit Robert Enlow. So, having lived in England, I’m sure you’re very well aware that the United States is the only developed nation that does not have codified public aid for private schools.

Robert Enlow: Yeah, those unsuccessful nations like Germany and France and Sweden and Finland and Denmark, all those truly unsuccessful countries that I’m sure that we look to lead the way on education, because we’ve all heard of the Finland Miracle, right? Surprisingly, they actually use public money to go to nonpublic schools. In fact, it is our great country, America, that is way behind the rest of Europe and the developed world on this. So, I guess we’re not really talking about other successful countries, because if we were going to be like them, we would be doing vouchers for everyone. Much like they do in those truly successful countries that I assume you’re talking about. So, we are behind the curve. Yes, we are a non-successful nation when it comes to giving educational opportunities compared to the rest of Europe.

Drew Catt: And speaking of behind the curve, the notion that equity creates excellence. So, we’ve had equity in education maybe since the ’70s. I would say that’s a little more recent, and this excellence that we’ve seen, what excellence have we seen? Let’s look at the NAEP scores. There’s no excellence happening.

Robert Enlow: I couldn’t agree more. And in fact, if we really want to have a conversation about equity in education, let’s have a conversation about our suburban and urban public schools, and our suburban and our charter schools, and our suburban and urban private schools. There are huge gaps in the delivery of quality between those systems. Now based on what this tweet would have you think, I guess he would say, “Well, our public schools are all equitable and any other option are disequitable.” But that can’t be the case, because I’m sure that the public schools in Naples are just as the same quality as the public schools in urban Miami. Reality is, it’s not. Now you could argue that it’s because kids are harder to educate or because they’re impoverished, and there is meaning and value to that, but there are a lot of schools in those areas that are charter, private and public that are actually bucking the curve and showing that they can serve those kids in those areas.

I think educational equity, as far as I can tell based on the research, hasn’t shown to have any evidence of raising both test scores and quality across the board. You’re the researcher, you tell me.

Drew Catt: Yeah. I haven’t seen anything yet. That doesn’t mean it’s not in the works. Go into some research conferences, keep my eyes open to see if there is anything, but I haven’t seen it yet.

Robert Enlow: I think we should have a five-year plan for it. I bet if we have a five year plan for how we get educational equity, we can put it all a bunch of resources, giant resources in giant time, and then four and a half years later when it’s not worked, we can have another five-year plan, and spend giant resource and giant time. I mean the reality is, here’s something I know about Indiana, if you want to talk about resources and time. There are 38,000 kids receiving scholarships to go to nonpublic schools here. Most of them are low-income families, and there are also some middle-income families. There are 44,000 kids or so going to charter schools. Here’s what I know from the scholarship program.

Those same kids, they currently cost the state $160 million. By the way, out of a $14.2 billion annual budget, they cost $160 million to go to those nonpublic schools. If they went back to their traditional schools, they would cost $220 million. So, not sure it’s really a giant waste of resources if you’re going to save somewhere between 40 and $60 million. Just saying, I know we’re a few trillion in debt, but maybe this is not a bad idea.

@SBeekeeper responds, “Translation, Betsy DeVos is burning public education to the ground so she can profit off charter schools. Her cronies at EdChoice are saying that public schools are on fire so you should get out, while educators and people with ethics are putting out the damn fires.”
Wow, that’s reads like a political act, doesn’t it?

Well, here’s the translation that we’re all going to die if you support Betsy DeVos. That’s crazy. So, look, Betsy DeVos and school choice. School choice has been around long before Betsy DeVos, and long before President Trump, and long before President Obama, and is going to be around long after them, and it’s been around long before them, too. The idea that somehow people are trying to burn public education to the ground is this silly, silly idea. And I appreciate the sentiments of trying to make sure that we support our educators. There’s no doubt about that. But the reality is, we’re not trying to profit off anything. We’re trying to give parents the opportunity to choose. And I think some people get lost in the rhetoric of politics rather than what’s needed for kids.

Drew Catt: Yeah. And I’ve never heard anyone here say that “public schools are on fire, so you should get out.” I think if anything, people are saying, “Hey, not every public school is the best fit for every single student.”

Robert Enlow: Well, that’s right. But you know, in this deep voice, whenever you say that parents should have options, it’s kind of, “You’re burning them to the ground.” That just makes me laugh, because at the end of the day, they’re saying that public schools are on fire. The imagery is just crazy in some ways. And so look, we want families and educators, parents and communities to work together to improve education. And I don’t care if we work with Arne Duncan or Betsy DeVos, or any of the other secretaries of education or the presidents, we’re going to work with them all to try and get families more choices. So, I appreciate the concern on the politics and I get what’s going on. But EdChoice is about families and so should we all be.

Drew Catt: From @MarcusPun. “@KShedidnt @edchoice also do not like spam ads like these from organizations that do not disclose their donors. Big red flag.”
All right. I mean like I’m going to be honest. Every single one of our research reports, we have this little nice thing at the back, especially the surveys, called Survey Project and Profile. It’s linked on every single report landing page, in which it says who funds that specific piece of research. Also, as a nonprofit, we file a 990. On our 990, it has plenty of wonderful information including our address. If you want to send us any fan mail and who our largest donors are.

Robert Enlow: Big red flag. Look, the reality is as a nonprofit, we, like all nonprofits in America, we put our 990s out there. The ACLU does the same thing. So, except, you know who doesn’t? The NEA, they don’t actually disclose their donors on the 990s, because they don’t really do 990s as far as I know. Maybe I’m wrong. If they’re a 501(c)(3) under the federal government like we are, where you actually have to follow the accountability of the IRS. You actually do file 990s, and you do actually file tax returns, and you do actually file a whole host of other governmental paperwork to show people who we are.

The reality is we will share our information with anyone who asks. Now those donors who asked to be private, we keep them private. That’s the way the world works. Right? And it’s okay because every single nonprofit just like Common Cause, just like the ACLU, just like all of them follow the same rules. So, if you don’t like those rules, then let’s go and change it with the federal government level. Because right now, we are happy to disclose, and that’s why Charity Navigator gives us a rating of a four out of a four. So, maybe @MarcusPun, you should actually look at what our rating is and see what we disclosed before you give us the big red flag.

Drew Catt: Yeah, and honestly, if you want to send something to us and not have it read on here, just send us a private message, it will be kept private.

Robert Enlow: In response to our own Emory Edwards’ wonderful story about picking a school for his kid, @Scrumfy5 says, “Get this propaganda off my feed, scumbags.”
Nice. That’s about all you need to say.

Drew Catt: Yeah. I don’t think, this isn’t necessarily an individual that has much empathy, but maybe they don’t have kids of their own. Maybe they don’t know how difficult it is to find a school.

Robert Enlow: What do you say? You just really can’t say anything about that one. It’s more important to be nice. That’s all I’ll say.

Anne Hartley responds, “Why all this silence and secrecy? Why are they so defensive when we point out the nature of their work? Why won’t they reel its scope?”

We’re happy to share and talk about the nature of our work and in fact, come on our podcast and we’ll be happy to debate, right? We’re happy to talk about it. We have nothing to hide here. We’re happy to share everything. There’s no secrecy. We’ll happily share what we do, and I’m assuming you’ll share everything that you do because that’s the way transparency works. So, I would say to Ms. Hartley, bring it on. Come. We’ll be happily transparent with the best of them.

Drew Catt: Yeah, I love having conversations with people that have different perspectives than I do, because I feel like I always learn something from them, and I hope that they learn something from me.

Robert Enlow: Well, let’s hope that that’s the way society should be. You know, as civil society… Oh, that’s probably a trigger word. I don’t mean to. But look, the fact is we’re trying to relearn, it seems, in America, how to actually talk to each other, how to communicate when we actually don’t agree with each other, how to actually love each other when we disagree with each other violently. It’s something we’ve lost the art of and it’s really something we should do. And so, at EdChoice, we welcome anyone who wants to come on and disagree with this. As long as it’s respectful conversation, we’ll have you on, we’ll talk about it and we’ll have some deep, meaningful conversations. Because that is the kind of secrecy we promote.

Drew Catt: Well, Robert, this has been a lot of fun. Thanks for hanging out.

Robert Enlow: I’ve enjoyed the heck out of it. I can’t wait to do some more mean tweets, because they’re really humorous.

Drew Catt: Yeah, and I honestly hope that those of you out there watching or listening, if you have something that you’d like to be featured, make sure to @ us.
So, to our listeners and viewers, be sure to subscribe to our podcasts wherever you choose, because we’re all about choice. For more of our coverage of new school choice research, education reform, policy chats and more, including future mean tweets. So, thanks for listening and watching, and we’ll see you back soon with more EdChoice chats.

Robert Enlow: And remember, “It’s nice to be important, but it’s more important to be nice.”