The Real “Choice” Parents Make in “Choosing” Privatized Education

Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos at CPAC 2017, Feb 23, 2017 (Source: Michael Vadon | Flickr)

In discussions of education and more specifically, public school education, one controversial issue has been “the choice” to attend schools other than public school. Betsy DeVos, the recently confirmed Education Secretary, intends to move national education in a direction that will allow parents more choice in choosing their child’s school and expand the charter school sector. To allow parents more option in school choice, DeVos has advocated for a controversial school voucher program previously, which would allow parents “the choice” to provide their children the opportunity to attend private and religious schools through federal taxpayer allocations. Also, DeVos has advocated for an expansion of the charter school sector, in which children (usually if they meet the school’s academic criteria) could attend an alternative school to their respective public school. But, I argue that this “choice” on the part of parents to send their children to alternative schools, especially charter schools, could have major repercussions and instead of benefiting public schools, actually degrade them.

What exactly are charter schools, and how are they run? Well, to begin, charter schools are publicly funded based on enrollment and run under a “charter” or contract which outlines the curriculum and management expectations of the respective school. They are considered a “public school.” But what truly is a key difference between charter schools and other public schools is that the former are less regulated by the state. This means that charter schools have more freedom to make staffing decisions, educational decisions, funding decisions, etc. Additionally, charter schools have Educational Management Organizations (EMOs) running administrative affairs, which means that the concentration of wealth and power fall onto these for-profit EMOs.

The Center for Public Education recently recorded that “as the charter school movement spread, many non-profit organizations have begun to operate and manage multiple charter schools — often across different states. Some researchers have dubbed these entities “charter management organizations,” while others use the term “non-profit EMOs.” Non-profit EMOs run 13 percent of all charter schools, showing the largest for-profit and non-profit EMOs, which together run approximately 10 percent of all charter schools, enrolling 209,519 students.”

Though the non-regulation of administrative affairs in charter schools may not necessarily yield corrosiveness to the quality of the education received in the charter school system, it sure does cast a blind spot for parents and community members in learning about where the funds are actually going.

However, to the latter point, even though the Center for Research on Education Outcomes (CREDO) found that in many cases charter school students performed better that public school students in elementary level math and reading, they found that there was “no evidence of a net gain during high school” for charter school students compared to public school students.

Because of the non-regulatory aspect of charter school education, there is less accountability for meager education.

Supporters for DeVos’s plans emphasize the notion of “choice” in educational opportunity for children who attend charter schools. With regard to this “choice”, major pushback to this is that charter schools and private schools can be very selective in the admissions, and so all students do not have the equal opportunity to “choose” these schools. Also, if there is a constant tendency to choose charter schools because of the name, then this could lead to public school systems failing or having little scope of improving, as funds will be cut, etc.

Finally, As Noam Chomsky claims in his “Requiem for the American Dream,” this attack on public schools is an attack on “solidarity,” which is a core principle in democracy. Instead of entertaining the idea that there is something wrong with public schools and therefore we must find or create an alternative (with minimal state regulation, as of course regulation is the root of all evil), we should invest our time and and energy and resources to improving public educational opportunity.

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