Internet Roundup: Education Part 7

Betsy DeVos, who Trump has announced he will nominate to be Secretary of Education, is like many of his cabinet picks, a fox put in charge of the henhouse, vowing to destroy the institution he has chosen to entrust her with. If Detroit’s terrible decentralized all-charter school system is any indication of what she intends to do with the rest of the country’s schools, we are all in trouble.

DeVos and those who agree with her about educational issues talk a lot about “school choice,” which is one of those things that sounds good in theory, but does not work as advertised. The logic of free markets does not apply to education for a few reasons. First, education is not a consumer product, it is a public good and a human right. Second, all parents are not necessarily able to act as “informed consumers” where schools are concerned, and are constrained in their choices by geography, transportation, and a lack of time to research different schools. Third, allowing companies to profit from education incentivizes them to spend as little money on educating students as possible, so that they can keep more for themselves. Fourth, “choice” does not guarantee quality. It doesn’t mean “pick any school in the world.” It usually means “pick one of the two terrible schools in your neighborhood.”

Here are a few articles that fully explain the folly of charter schools, vouchers, other “school choice” policies, and debunk the arguments behind them.

“The Problem with Choice” by Pauline Hawkins

The Essential Selfishness of School Choice” by Steven Singer

“Why Is ‘The Decimation of Public Schools’ a Bad Thing?” by Nathan J. Robinson

If school choice isn’t the answer, what is? This article discusses in a very comprehensive way the concrete reforms and changes in education that would actually work. The author is a Texas legislator who visited all 55 of the schools in his district and conducted many interviews. Time, stability, resources, support staff, wraparound services: it’s really common sense, but also expensive.

What They Said: What I Learned from Conversations with Texas Educators” by Diego Bernal

5 thoughts on “Internet Roundup: Education Part 7

  1. Hey MaryJo, not all of your hyperlinks work — the link to Nathan J. Robinson’s article takes the reader to the article by Steven Singer instead. Thanks for sharing all this! I posted all your excellent information to my Facebook page. 😀

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  5. I got in a facebook debate with some smart, polite people who advocated for “free-market-based education reform,” and it led me to articulate some ideas that could be added to this blog post to enrich the discussion:
    -Everyone pays taxes to fund public schools because everyone benefits from living in a society in which everyone is educated, regardless of their ability to pay for it. People with no kids benefit from other people’s children being educated because those people grow up to provide services for them, for example. Although public school funding should not necessarily be tied to property taxes because that drives inequality
    -Education is fundamentally different from products like cars and fast food because children are not products. Business models and analogies do not work to understand education “markets.” The number of new businesses that fail is huge–if you want schools to run like businesses, and parents’ “school choice” to operate like decisions in a marketplace, then you have to tolerate school failure in the same way we tolerate business failure, in both the long term and the short term, and isn’t avoiding that exactly the point of market-based reforms?
    -So we have school failure now, and we would still have it under market-based reforms. Also, vouchers have been proven to fail students and produce worse results. There is evidence and research proving vouchers don’t work to improve individual student outcomes. In most cases, students would be better off if they stayed in their public schools.
    -Short-term vs long term thinking. In the short term, students “escape failing schools” with vouchers, but in the long term, this “choice” drives a cycle of deterioration that further degrades the public schools.
    – Once you start a voucher program, it’s hard to end it. Historically, these programs have only expanded (ex. local to statewide).
    -The incentive to improve education is already there without competition. We all want to help children reach their potential, and they are already inherently motivated to learn by natural curiosity. We just have to stop preventing that natural process by pushing standardized tests.
    -I agree the status quo is not acceptable, and we need to change things, but introducing competition between schools is not the way to do it. For ideas of the kinds of reforms that research supports, see the linked article by Diego Bernal. Also read Diane Ravitch’s Reign of Error.

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