How the Pioneer Institute Appropriates Social Justice for their Own Gain
Like many right-wing think-tanks, the Pioneer Institute favors privatizing various public goods in the name of innovation, efficiency, and autonomy. However, unlike some of their more conservative colleagues, the Pioneer Institute regularly invokes traditionally left-wing language around social progress to garner support for their policies. Most notably, Pioneer has used their education agenda to make the leap that privatization serves as an equitable solution for all communities. They often invoke the language and tradition of the Civil Rights Movement and rally numerous Black scholars and organizations behind their messaging, particularly when promoting charter schools. They also held a Frederick Douglass US History Essay Contest in 2013, annually commemorate MLK’s birthday and Black History Month on their website, and have called on family members of Civil Rights Movement leaders to publicly support charter schools even when those leaders never publicly supported school privatization in any form.
This report demonstrates how three of Pioneer’s leading claims that their education reforms create greater equity in schools are not only unfounded but that actually these reforms disproportionately harm communities of color and immigrant communities. First, this report disproves Pioneer’s claims that charter schools are better learning environments for students of color and English Language Learners by examining the same state data source referenced by Pioneer. Second, this report again uses the same data source to dispel Pioneer’s claims that charter schools are better work environments for teachers, and thereby better learning environments for students of color. Third, this report demonstrates how Pioneer employs contradictory stances on histories of oppression in their messaging in order to further their education policies. Lastly, this report brings into focus the ideological roots of Pioneer’s pro-privatization agenda as historically and functionally racist. Specifically, school privatization via vouchers was most prominently used by Southerners as a workaround to desegregation as mandated by Brown v. the Board of Education. Beyond Pioneer’s nominal involvement of people of color in their public-facing work, the disproportionate effects of their policies on communities of color and other marginalized communities become as important, if not more, than the shape of their message.
Pioneer’s claim #1: Charter schools are better learning environments for students of color and high-needs students than public schools.
Fact: Black, Latinx, ELL, and high-needs charter school students drop out of school as often, if not more often than their public school counterparts statewide. Students of color and high-needs students also receive drastically harsher punishment than their public school counterparts for the lowest level of offenses.
Pioneer’s claim #2: Charters produce better teachers than public schools, as proven by student test scores.
Fact: Some teachers at MA charter schools have voted to unionize, citing poor management practices. Charter schools also rely more heavily on teachers of color and have in some cases higher than average turnover rates and student-to-teacher ratios.
Pioneer’s claim #3: Teaching children about racial oppression is important and the only way to make sure it happens is through statewide history tests.
Fact: The Pioneer Institute has taken contradictory stances on the relevance of teaching histories of oppression in order to promote statewide history tests that have drawn criticism from communities of color.
Pioneer’s claim #4: Increasing public funding for private schools and promoting charter schools is the “civil rights issue of our era” and builds on the legacy of Brown v. the Board of Education by ensuring equal access to quality education.
Fact: Historian Nancy MacLean’s research shows that forms of school privatization and school choice were promoted by economists as a workaround for desegregation in the South following Brown v. the Board of Education in 1954 and that vouchers specifically have historically benefitted and continue to benefit primarily White students.