In Public Education We Trust

Education Secretary Betsy DeVos is expected to offer details about the Trump administration’s vision for a federal investment in school choice in a major policy speech. The School Choice and Charter School initiative she and the administration supports is based on the idea that they will create a competitive market and thereby improve all schools.

They argue that if there are charter schools in a region, they will lure away sufficient numbers of students (and therefore money) from the existing public school system so that “the system will be forced to make positive changes, or cease to exist.”

It is based on the competitive market principle that corrections are in the control of each entity and in the case of failing public schools it assumes they are failing because they aren’t motivated to succeed; or are too stubborn to make the necessary changes. But, it is shortsighted as it does not consider if those “positive changes” are reliant on funds. And moreover, impeded by socio-political hurdles. What if the burden of certain public schools lies in the fact that its student population has unique challenges inherent to their location?

What happens when failing schools cannot make those “positive changes”? What happens to the students who couldn’t go to a choice or charter school? What happens when the charter and choice schools are full? What happens to the spill over students? To the teachers? To the community around those schools that have closed?

And what happens to the choice schools when they absorb underachieving students? Won’t they be faced with the same challenges the public schools faced? What then has been “fixed”?

Are they underachievers because they just aren’t motivated enough? Or maybe they have to hold down a job? Maybe some of them support their family. Maybe some of them come from a family legacy that does not support education. Maybe some of them live in abject poverty and have succumbed to the pathologies that come with it
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A spinning wheel of competition is not an educational paradigm. Public Education was founded by the reality that students are of different abilities, capacities, learning curves, and myriad differences in growth and maturity. Competition exists against one’s own progress, not a standardized criteria that demands that one size fits all.

School Choice can be part of the system, but as the framework for the system itself it will be the undoing of Public Education. I believe that is ultimately the true intention of those supporting the program (and to direct tax dollars to parochial schools). Struggling schools will lose students, lose funding, and be closed. Students that needed those schools will be lost because the new system is not designed to absorb all of them. That is what the Public School system accomplished.

That old Public School was their best “choice.”

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