Letter: DeVos and the problems of 'choice'
Few of President Trump's appointees have been as widely derided as Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos. From the announcement of her appointment through the Senate confirmation hearings (at which she seemed ignorant of major provisions of federal education law), DeVos was ardently opposed by many, many groups, including constituencies that would ordinarily support a republican nominee. It took the vice president's tie-breaking vote to get her confirmed.
Her philosophy of education is quite simple: all children should be able to "choose" the school they want to attend and if the school they choose is not a public school, parents should still be able to use public money to cover the cost. That sounds terrific, so why the outcry? Because it's a shallow slogan that ignores reality.
That policy that would likely lead to two very bad consequences: 1) the eventual death of the very idea of public schools, and 2) a continuation of the current problem of more affluent students generally attending better schools than the less affluent. Simply put, if 1,000 students "choose" to attend a school with room for only 500, the school will pick the "best" of the 1,000 applicants.
Where do the other 500 go, and what will be the consequence to their schools of the 500 "best" students having already been picked off? That's not DeVos's problem, but it certainly is our problem.
How could DeVos see this as a solution? Start with the fact that she's a billionaire who always attended private schools. She never even taught or otherwise worked in a public school. I would bet she views public schools from a very elitist perspective.
Sadly, the idea of charter school superiority is a myth. Even though charters have more curriculum flexibility than public schools and can pick and choose their students, they also tend to have uncertified teachers and inadequate oversight of ethics, finances, and educational results.
Some 24 percent of charter schools have already closed. There is no solid evidence that kids at charters outperform public school kids. If we truly want to help the public schools that perform poorly, it seems to me that examining the many public schools that are excellent and emulating what makes them excellent is a far more effective approach than creating a system in which parents essentially play charter school roulette, betting their money and their child and hoping they get lucky.
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