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Education Reformers Send Their Kids to Private School

Posted on Jan 13, 2012
Phil Roeder (CC-BY)

By David Sirota

Last week, my local twittersphere momentarily erupted with allegations that Denver’s public school superintendent, Tom Boasberg, is sending his kids to a private school that eschews high-stakes testing. Boasberg, an icon of the national movement pushing high-stakes testing and undermining traditional public education, eventually defended himself by insisting that his kids attended that special school only during pre-school and that they now attend a public school. Yet his spokesman admitted that the school is not in Denver but in Boulder, Colo., one of America’s wealthiest enclaves.

Boasberg, you see, refuses to live in the district that he governs. Though having no background in education administration, this longtime telecom executive used his connections to get appointed Denver superintendent, and he now acts like a king. From the confines of his distant castle in Boulder, he issues edicts to his low-income fiefdom — decrees demonizing teachers’ unions, shutting down neighborhood schools over community objections and promoting privately administered charter schools. Meanwhile, he makes sure his own royal family is insulated in a wealthy district that doesn’t experience his destructive policies.

No doubt this is but a microcosmic story in a country whose patrician overlords are regularly conjuring the feudalism of Europe circa the Middle Ages. Today, our mayors deploy police against homeless people and protesters; our governors demand crushing budget cuts from the confines of their taxpayer-funded mansions; our Congress exempts itself from insider-trading laws and provides itself health care benefits denied to others; and our nation’s capital has become one of the world’s wealthiest cities, despite the recession.

Taken together, we see that there really are “Two Americas,” as the saying goes — and that’s no accident. It’s the result of a permanent elite that is removing itself from the rest of the nation. Nowhere is this more obvious than in education — a realm in which this elite physically separates itself from us mere serfs. As the head of one of the country’s largest urban school districts, Boasberg is a perfect example of this — but he is only one example.

The Washington Post, for instance, notes that it has become an unquestioned “tradition among Washington’s power elite” — read: elected officials — to send their kids to the ultra-expensive private school Sidwell Friends. At the same time, many of these officials have backed budget policies that weaken public education.


Square, Site wide

Outside of Washington, it’s often the same story. As just two recent examples, both New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie and Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel have championed massive cuts to public education while sending their kids to private school.

In many cases, these aristocrats aren’t even required to publicly explain themselves. (Boasberg, for example, is never hounded by local media about why he refuses to live in Denver.) Worse, on the rare occasions that questions are posed, privacy is the oft-used excuse to not answer, whether it’s Obama defenders dismissing queries about their Sidwell decision, Christie telling a voter his school choices are “none of your business,” or Emanuel storming out of a television interview and then citing his “private life” when asked about the issue.

This might be a convincing argument about ordinary citizens’ personal education choices, but it’s an insult coming from public officials. When they remove themselves and their families from a community — but still retain power over that community — they end up acting as foreign occupiers, subjecting us to policies they would never subject their own kin to.

Pretending this is acceptable or just a “private” decision, then, is to tolerate ancient, ruling-class notions that are no longer sustainable in the 21st century. Indeed, if this nation is going to remain a modern republic, it can’t also be a Medieval oligarchy — no matter how much America’s elite wants to keep governing from behind the palace walls.

David Sirota is best-selling author of the new book “Back to Our Future: How the 1980s Explain the World We Live In Now.” He hosts the morning show on AM760 in Colorado. Email him at, follow him on Twitter @davidsirota or visit his website at

© 2012

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By spantic, January 16, 2012 at 8:10 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

whats interesting is that all private schools really provide is access. My wife is a product of
London based private elementary schools, a north east private boarding school, yale and a
then onward from there. her “friends” from these schools are not any brighter then all my
public school friends, they are all just significantly better connected, and have a piece of
paper to lay down after graduation that says “im in the club.” and so clerk for a supreme
court justice, etc.

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By Public School Mother, January 16, 2012 at 12:14 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

I live in Washington DC where we have many excellent private schools for those who can afford $25K and up private school tuition per child.  For the rest of us, many are busy this time of year determining if our public school choice (yes including charters) is working for our child(ren); if its worth entering the various lotteries to get our child)ren) into a better school, is we’re lucky, taking our kids to schools of our choice which may mean kids sit on/in the bus/metro/car for 1-3 hours per day and supporting our school if it is working. 
Plus, families who can afford to do so, pay hundreds of dollars each year to help our child(ren)‘s schools. 

Vouchers?  Don’t really work here for reasons you can look up. 

BTW, I live near Sidwell’s city campus. It is an open campus, one that is accessible. There are lots of cars with people in them, many of the running all day around the school while school is in session.  They can do the same in any public/charter school in DC.

I’m glad you’re writing on this important topic, it deserves much serious action.

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oddsox's avatar

By oddsox, January 16, 2012 at 12:11 pm Link to this comment

bpawk, you raise a couple interesting questions & points.

I have 2 teenagers and they attend public schools.
There are private alternatives that some of my kids’ friends have attended. 
A lot of them them came back. 
Some attended the Catholic K-6 school, then went to public middle and high schools. 
More than a few kids are (or have been) home schooled. 
It’s a mixed bag.

Yesterday I was driving a van full of my son’s friends and it occurred to me that my passengers included both genders, varied races and were from an especially wide spectrum of wealth and income. 
One kid defintely from 1% parents another that might be closer to the 90th percentile (single mom who did have a job at least). 
The others, including my son, were somewhere in between.

To paraphrase the great Warren Zevon, “the train don’t run by here no more…”
We don’t have tracks, but we do have a state line.

Rich & poor kids frequently cross over to play and school together for the most part.  Higher unemployment has caused families to move away. 
Rich, poor, whatever, we don’t have enough kids here, that’s our problem.  Our challenge is in forming teams and keeping the schools open.

Now I believe our small town is the rare exception.  Proves it’s possible, though.  Varying wealth/income groups living together I mean. 

I’m not saying the Obamas have to place Sasha and Malia in private schools—just that it’s their right to, their choice.
And as Chris Christie says it’s really none of our business. 

At the same time, it’s Sirota’s right to disclose (or ignore?) facts and offer his insight (or lack thereof).

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By heterochromatic, January 15, 2012 at 5:21 pm Link to this comment

bpawk—- do you have children?

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By bpawk, January 15, 2012 at 3:25 pm Link to this comment


believe me, if the obama kids went to any public school, it would be the most guarded and secure public school in the nation so the argument that they HAVE to put their kids in private school doesn’t wash ...

obama is one of the elites so naturally he’s going to put his children into an elite school - public school is not good enough for his kids but it is for yours.

which leads me to the question: why do you identify with a rich guy and his issue - your class i suspect is from the public school side of the tracks - the rich don’t see if from your side (they won’t fix the public schools) so why should you see if from their side?

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By ardee, January 15, 2012 at 2:43 pm Link to this comment

Lele Grant, January 14 at 4:28 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

Wouldn’t home schooling be one way to combat this?

My own opinion regarding home schooling is that our system of public education is a key building block of our democracy. Further, home schooled kids may yet be shown to have undeveloped socialization skills from being isolated from their peers.

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By heterochromatic, January 15, 2012 at 2:05 pm Link to this comment

Bill—-perhaps we need to recognize that public officials who allocate public
monies for various public school systems have budgets and that these budgets are

It would be preferable is is every system had larger, always more-than-adequate
money, but that’s not the case and the people doing the work can only spend what
they have to spend. I’m not cognizant of many school administrators calling for
smaller amounts of money for their districts. If Boasberg is one of those, shame
on him, but I can’t bitch him out for the personal things that Sirota cites.

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By Jen, January 15, 2012 at 1:44 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

The voucher system would empower parents (not only rich ones) to provide their children with better educational opportunities, and ultimately, a way to give their children a chance to have better opportunities in life. The public school system has been failing for years. The public system has fallen prey to corrupt school administration, who waste or steal tax dollars that should have been spent on improving their schools. The voucher system may force these failing public schools to become more competitive with the private sector. This article is blatantly ignorant class warfare. In demonizing the private sector you are doing no service to the youth of our nation. Why should parents settle for less than the best education for their children? Your article falls prey to the classic logical fallacy of Argumentum ad Ignorantiam.

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By Bill, January 14, 2012 at 10:04 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

The main thing that I think Mr. Sirota is saying is these public officials cut
spending on education, but send kids to a school with a budget per student 4-10
times what the per student budget of a public school is.  That is more
reprehensible.  If we upped the budget for public schools to the lower end of this
say, we could dramatically change public education.  But as was said by someone
earlier.  The rich don’t want everyone to have what they have.

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By Lele Grant, January 14, 2012 at 5:28 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

Wouldn’t home schooling be one way to combat this?

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oddsox's avatar

By oddsox, January 14, 2012 at 4:07 pm Link to this comment

Public figures often send their children to private schools for security reasons.

Not only to protect the kids from potential creepy-sicko stalker types, as first comes to mind, but also from the well-meaning masses who want to “get a glimpse,” but in doing so, interrupt, distract and rob the kids of their best chance at a normal childhood.

Boasberg’s kids may not fall in to this category, but Sasha and Malia Obama sure do and I’ll bet Christie’s kids do, too.

Bottom line:  Public officials, like the rest of us, have the right to send their children to private schools for whatever reasons.
And scribes like David Sirota have the right to offer their opinions.

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By heterochromatic, January 14, 2012 at 12:19 pm Link to this comment

overall literacy rate in India is poor… can’t cherry-pick a area of India with a
population of about 10% of our own and just about 3% of the Indian population
and compare it to ours…... and even if you could Kerala’s literacy does NOT
surpass ours…. it’s lower.

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James M. Martin's avatar

By James M. Martin, January 14, 2012 at 11:57 am Link to this comment

Keralia in India has a higher literacy rate than ours.  Many developing countries do as well.

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By heterochromatic, January 14, 2012 at 11:54 am Link to this comment

Mr Martin——on what basis would it be justifiable to abolish private schools?

I’m a staunch believer in maintaining and improving public education, proud of the
public education that I received and a person who insisted that my offspring
attend public schools, but not someone willing to insist that other people’s
children MUST attend public schools.

That’s simply not right and it’s not my business to insist on anything more than
that other kids be given the opportunity to absorb a sound basic education.

We certainly do not fail to compete with other educational systems in China and
India….. i would wonder how you get that idea considering that neither of those
countries produce literacy rates as great as our own

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James M. Martin's avatar

By James M. Martin, January 14, 2012 at 11:33 am Link to this comment

In the latest “Time,” Warren Buffet says that we should abolish private schools.  Education should be of much more concern to Americans than the national debt or jobs or both.  We already fail to compete technologically with the Chinese, India, and other nations, developed and developing. We are on the road to Third World economic status because we cannot compete in education.

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By David Rosen, January 14, 2012 at 9:29 am Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

“ long as our electorate allows it…” There is a limit to what schools can do. The problem is that a majority of kids come from homes headed by “our electorate”. The damage has been done over many generations, and this is only one problem among many that come together to send the country ‘down the tube’. To get to the roots of our decline, read Morris Berman’s “Why America Failed”. It’s an eye-opener.

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By heterochromatic, January 14, 2012 at 9:18 am Link to this comment

Poole- a fellow such as heterochromatic seems to be aware that there are many
stances among the thoughtful that are not fully thought out in the body of the
thoughtful comments and may oft reflect unwarranted application of
assumptions that do not fit the facts in the instances to which the thoughtful
seek to apply them.

that heterochromatic is obnoxious in ways that differ from the thoughtful
commenters does don’t imply that he is unaware or that the congregation of the
thoughtful is not itself obnoxious and not aware.

not that I’m necessarily critical of what a Poole believes

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Eric L. Prentis's avatar

By Eric L. Prentis, January 14, 2012 at 8:04 am Link to this comment

David Sirota, you are the man. Love what you are doing!

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By bpawk, January 14, 2012 at 7:02 am Link to this comment

The upper class know that the public education system is substandard so of course they will send their children (including the OBamas) to private schools - a broken public school system is good enough for you and me but not good enough for their kids and they know it!

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By dalispicture, January 14, 2012 at 1:13 am Link to this comment

For America, read England. Here there has always been the tendency for public servants to privately educate their offspring. Only now this Conservative government
is encouraging an explosion of new socially segregated schooling. Academies, “free schools” and the blight of further faith schools that will serve the cause of elite injustice, promoting social inequality. These are indeed neo feudal times.

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By Sandy Button, January 13, 2012 at 7:26 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

I have no problem with people sending their kids to private schools but to gut the public education system in the meantime is unacceptable. What are they so afraid of, maybe their kids are not capable of learning or are so spoiled they thing they know everything and no matter how much the school costs they still need an edge so bring down the level of intelligence of the rest of the American children so the off spring of these DIM WITS can compete.

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By "G"utless "W"itless Hitler, January 13, 2012 at 6:32 pm Link to this comment

Cracking on a wealthy public school superintendent for
sending his kids to private school is like cracking on
the wealthy owner of a McDonalds franchise for feeding
his kids organic food.  Just because a factory worker
doesn’t want his son joining him in the factory doesn’t
mean 1) that factory work is worthless or 2) that he’s
not doing a good job in the factory.

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By John Poole, January 13, 2012 at 5:28 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

I think I speak for thoughtful pondering Truthdiggers. We know we are imperfect
and desire to uncover and rectify any irrational prejudices we may harbor and also
any acquired or inherited hypocrisy. A fellow like heterchromatic seems unaware
of his hypocritical stances.

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By richard roe, January 13, 2012 at 3:46 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

By promoting vouchers, this subsidizes the rich who can already afford the costly private schools and makes them richer. At the same time this takes $ away from the poor who’s only option is public education. 

When hearing “privatization” think “privateers”, those 17th century British gov’t. supported pirates who routinely attacked and plundered ships belonging to other countries such as Spain and Portugal.  The times have changed but the goal is pretty much the same.

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By heterochromatic, January 13, 2012 at 3:27 pm Link to this comment

——As with health care in America, no rich person
wants a poor, and maybe coloured person, to have what
s/he has.——-

that’s just a foolish statement.

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By Okello, January 13, 2012 at 2:54 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

I am an African.  Just a Maths Teacher from Central Africa.  Baraka Obama chose his Basket-Ball buddy, Arne Duncan, to be US Secretary for Education.  Was it naiveté or he was just giving the finger to the children of America.  In hindsight, G W Bush was a much more decent human being.
And now we see this Denver Public School Superintendent is a Telecoms hustler, instead of having an Educator in charge. Where are America’s stellar educators,  the John Dewey of the 1940’s. 
People are being pushed against the wall while Electoral politics is running out of steam.  In “The Grapes of Wrath”  John Steinbeck wondered about the vintage;  lest we forget !!
Back home in Africa , Mining interests have killed over five million in Congo alone.  How can the world just sit and watch. The holocaust is not to stop there!!
We have to unite our efforts and strategies to defang this evil Anglo-Judeo-American monster.

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By heterochromatic, January 13, 2012 at 12:44 pm Link to this comment

——We need to rid ourselfes of the
Republican/Democratic Party.  Vote 3rd Party.  Vote for
Rocky Anderson of the Justice party.——-

and how will that aid public education?

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By SarcastiCanuck, January 13, 2012 at 12:21 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

I guess the writing is on the wall…..if your educated enough to read it.

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mrfreeze's avatar

By mrfreeze, January 13, 2012 at 12:15 pm Link to this comment

Just ask the wealthy, who are SO outraged by the cost of public education and who would have us believe that “throwing money at the schools doesn’t help” why it is that “throwing money” at their precious children (via private schools/wealthy school districts) is OK? Why is that??????? Why is that?????????

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By heterochromatic, January 13, 2012 at 12:11 pm Link to this comment

Boasberg may well be a creep, but if you’re busting his
chops for sending his kids to a privately run pre-
school, that’s seems a tad silly.

Report this

By Tuscany, January 13, 2012 at 11:28 am Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

We need to rid ourselfes of the Republican/Democratic Party.  Vote 3rd Party.  Vote for Rocky Anderson of the Justice party.

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By Fibonacci65, January 13, 2012 at 10:38 am Link to this comment

As with health care in America, no rich person wants a poor, and maybe coloured person, to have what s/he has.  There is no longer a sense of community in America.  In other countries, taxes are pooled so that schools are equal in teacher quality and student outcomes, and parents can choose which public school thir kid attends.  The same with health care—although as a healthy person it bugs me to pay high taxes for smokers, drinkers and over-eaters, I do know that I value my country’s health care for all and I pay the damn taxes, because I value the community feeling that we’re all in this together.  I don’t have kids, but I sure as hell prefer living in a well-educated populace, as well.

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By JAFinisterre, January 13, 2012 at 9:52 am Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

Permanent elite.  Hmmm… Sounds like another way of saying fatal parasite.

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mrfreeze's avatar

By mrfreeze, January 13, 2012 at 8:22 am Link to this comment

Why Billy can’t read? Because there’s nothing to read!

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By c, January 13, 2012 at 7:30 am Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

No article - Also can you rotate the Meat add - I’m beginning to associate TrutDig with the images - 1) sexy obnoxious woman and 2) spoiled raw meat stew.

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By Mark, January 13, 2012 at 6:02 am Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

All animals are equal, but some animals are more equal than others

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By phantom, January 13, 2012 at 5:08 am Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

Only the title appears, no text. Perhaps whoever was responsible for
posting the text should have gone to a private school?

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By ardee, January 13, 2012 at 4:14 am Link to this comment

no article appears?

This nation is becoming a third world country, and rather rapidly in fact. It will continue to sink as long as our electorate allows it to.

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