Saturday, December 17, 2016

School 'Choice' in Trumplandia

What will public education look like in the Trump/DeVos universe? More of the same.


Like so many other 'reformers', DeVos will dangle the carrots of 'choice' and vouchers in front of urban parents, and public education as we know it will end—at least in the inner cities where parents have little say. She's already wreaked havoc in Detroit, a city that doesn't need one more ounce of despair. Valerie Strauss writes,

In Detroit, parents of school-age children have plenty of choices, thanks to the nation’s largest urban network of charter schools.
What remains in short supply is quality.
This deeply dysfunctional educational landscape — where failure is rewarded with opportunities for expansion and “choice” means the opposite for tens of thousands of children — is no accident. It was created by an ideological lobby that has zealously championed free-market education reform for decades, with little regard for the outcome.  
And at the center of that lobby is Betsy DeVos, the west Michigan advocate whose family has contributed millions of dollars to the cause of school choice and unregulated charter expansion throughout Michigan.

'Choice' connotes available options, but for many trapped in 'reform land', there really are none. 

When state governments deliberately underfund urban public schools to make them 'fail', how is that choice?

When charter schools cherry pick their students, how is that 'choice'?

When parents choose their public school, but it's forced to close because a charter has drained money away, how is that choice?

When the community has no say in how their school district is run, how is that choice?

"But, Marie," you say, "what about those vouchers?" 

Well, what about them? DeVos's master plan is to hand families a voucher of up to $12 thousand to send their children to their school of ‘choice’—including religious schools. If only my grandmother, who wrote my Catholic school tuition checks for 12 years, was alive to see this.

What an opportunity for students who live in high poverty/high needs neighborhoods—especially here in New Jersey! Right...? I mean, in addition to many of the finest public schools in the country, we also have some mighty fine and mighty pricey private schools. But hold on... don't go out and buy that blue blazer and khaki pants just yet. See, the funny thing about 'choice' is that it doesn't equal 'access', and that's where Betsy & Co. have those urban parents by the you-know-whats. 

Here's a list of New Jersey's top private schools and their tuition (added by me). Twelve thousand dollars won’t even cover half the tuition at most of these schools, let alone provide any guarantee of admittance—or transportation:
  • The Lawrenceville School, Lawrence $47,800 - $57,800
  • The Pingry School, Warren $29,000 - $35,000
  • Newark Academy, Livingston $37,900
  • Delbarton School, Morris $35,500
  • Kent Place School, Summit $15,800 - $39,000 
  • Collegiate School, Passaic $5,000 - $7,500
  • Peddie School, Hightstown $43,500 - $52,600
  • Dwight-Englewood School, Englewood $30,600
All of these schools provide a terrific education, and I don't begrudge for one minute parents who choose to send their children to them. But, none of them is anywhere near Camden or Asbury Park or Trenton or Long Branch or Gloucester or most of the rest of New Jersey's 31 former 'Abbott' districts that Gov. Christie has forced 'choice' on. And these schools really do have something those voucher-holding parents don't have: choice—which students to accept and which to reject. 

No, low income, urban students will have to apply (not 'choose') to attend a local charter or religious school that 
lacks public fiscal oversight, that may or may not accept them, and that may or may not be any better than the local public school. Suburban students also have to apply and be accepted to their private school of 'choice', but unlike urban students, the socioeconomic status of those suburban kids provides them with far more connections to 'access' like carpool pickups from the local Starbucks... or Wegmans... or Whole Foods... or... 

So much for ‘choice’.

"But parents need choice! The free market will drive competition and make education great again!", DeVos proclaims. Oy! Let's ask parents in Washington, DCMilwaukeeLouisiana and Indiana how those vouchers have worked out. 

Competition may be good for selling cars, but not for educating children. But Betsy DeVos doesn't care about that. She isn't interested in whether all students actually get into their school of 'choice' because those with means and/or the proper skin color will always have 'access' to the best educations, and that's all that really matters in Billionaire Land anyway. 

In the meantime, those without will continue to suffer, and the profiteers will profit. But as long as the appearance of 'choice' is out there, and she can get away with forcing her religious beliefs onto one of the last bastions of a free and democratic society, all will be well. 

This is not how to ‘make America great again’.

As charter cheerleaders cheer their cure-all cheers, I repeat my mantra: 

'Choice' does not equal 'Access' 

Your tax dollars at work...

Credit: Wikipedia

How's that workin' for ya?

For more information on Betsy DeVos, follow the bloggers on the right hand side of this page. 

And please call your US Senators and urge them to vote No on her confirmation. 

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