This is What Education Reform Looks Like Under Betsy DeVos

If President-elect Trump has his way, Betsy DeVos will be our new secretary of education. What does DeVos and her school-choice approach to education mean for public schools and their under-served students?

What Education Reform Looks Like Under Betsy DeVos

Despite many educators believing otherwise, education secretary nominee Betsy DeVos maintains “school choice” is the answer to saving the American public school system. The formulaic success of any school isn’t a secret; when armed with necessary resources and highly qualified teachers and staff who stick around longer than the average five years, schools thrive. Under DeVos’s reign, though, public schools turn into a business fueled by charters, vouchers, and school choice programs. There will be less accountability and more segregation, hardly a recipe for success.

Here’s what “choice” program advocates don’t want us to know: schools can (and do) hand-pick students like an All-Star basketball team.

They can also deny admission and drop kids from their rosters with impunity. As with everything else in America, the almighty dollar dictates school choice success, and families who don’t have enough of those dollars are ultimately left behind. Why are we not talking about improving ALL public schools instead of telling parents they should scramble to find and get their child into the best one. Never mind the schools (and their students) that aren’t succeeding.

As teachers know, quite a few of our students are struggling in socio-economical deprivation where meeting basic needs trumps meeting educational needs.

Speaking of Trump, he and Ms. DeVos are ignoring the research that shows thousands of these students in every state would be under-served should a choice program be implemented nation-wide. Those with special needs are also an afterthought in a choice-based system, as is evidenced by this study from Tulane’s Research Alliance whose results would be hilarious if the stakes weren’t so high. Oh, you weren’t aware of the laws that say you can’t deny a learning disabled student admission? By all means, carry on.

Ms. DeVos touts evidence of success from select schools to support a choice system. What she’s not telling us is that the majority of these schools had nowhere to go but up.

Their “success” isn’t predicated on being a part of a “choice” program; it’s based on efficiently allocated attention and resources, and the kind of institutional stability achieved only with a consistent administrative and teaching staff.

Although choice schools like the ones in New Orleans saw improvements, their gap is undeniable. It’s no coincidence that achievement gaps are a feeder into the juvenile courts system; our economically disadvantaged minority students are school choice’s forgotten byproducts. Since decreased graduation rates mean increased crime rates, it makes sense to prioritize this at-risk group, but that’s not what happens under a choice system. Moving away from a “me and mine” mentality and toward a commitment to serve underprivileged students the same as we do our own kids means a better America for everyone.

The belief is that charters, vouchers, and school choice provide more options, especially for those in undesirable districts. Because there is not a one-size-fits-all approach to solving the problems in our current education system, families will be able to choose what is in the best of their children. Individual students should theoretically benefit under a school choice plan. However, parents in the low-income bracket and/or those whose first language isn’t English are either not properly informed about their options, or simply do not understand them. Anyone who believes “choice” options are realistically and equally attainable for everyone is sadly mistaken; these students fall farther into the educational abyss.

Accountability is already a slippery slope when it comes to education, but what becomes of it in a choice-based system?

Who decides if benchmarks are being met, if students are, in fact, achieving? Will standards-based testing be a thing of the past if the standards are different in every school? Will each school have its own locally elected school board, no doubt consisting of self-serving political donors? Will tax payers’ dollars be evenly distributed or will schools have to scratch and claw to get the students, hence the money? How long will it be before the schools’ reputations precedes them and people begin referring to them as “the one for the rich kids” or “the one where all the Asians go?”

Is it really public education that needs a face-lift, or is it the public’s priority of education that needs the overhaul? Reform seems to be synonymous with “not in my back yard;” the armchair quarterbacks yelling the loudest are the same ones who don’t want the low-income, minority students in their district. Separating students based on access and advantage is not only unfair, but unrealistic. After formal education comes real life, and life has a funny way of leveling the playing field for all of us—excluding, of course, the top one percent. Perhaps billionaires like DeVos should come on down from their ivory towers and brush shoulders with the ones on the front line of real educational reform: the teachers.

Posted by Stephanie Jankowski

English teacher by trade, smack talker by nature, Stephanie Jankowski loves words and has a knack for finding the funny in everyday life. A mother of three in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, Stephanie subscribes to the mantra: “Life is too short, laugh!” Visit her site, WhenCrazyMeetsExhaustion.com, for more!

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