School choice and quality don’t always go together
Donald Trump's nomination of Betsy DeVos for Secretary of Education further questions the role of school choice and local control. Teacher unions and traditional schooling groups have spoken out against the appointment, while charter school advocacy groups have applauded. Trump has pushed for both school choice and local control during his campaign. Traditionally, local control provides diversity in an education system covering a diverse nation. School choice will undermine local voices and create an unequal system by definition. The mission isn't to find the best school for one student, but for all schools to be great for all students.
School choice is a market concept attempting to be defined as a social good. A social good cannot be upheld for everyone when choice clearly rates one school better than another. A ranking system always puts some at the top and some at the bottom, the idea being that as schools compete, they will all become better. The goal though is to abandon the ranking system so that all schools are equally great. Even if considered a better fit rather than a judgment of quality, it still determines that some schools are not fit for all students creating a segregated mindset. The vision for schools should be one of inclusiveness rather than divisive choice. School choice by definition reinforces inequality.
Local control of schools must be centered around a locale. Local control is defined traditionally in the democratic sense of electing politicians such as school board members. If students' parents choose not to send them to a local school, then are they opted out of that local democracy? Do we opt out of the state, county, or country we live in? If local control means control by each household, then it reverts to a shareholder system with winners and losers like a stock exchange. Local control is a democratic tradition. The American democratic electorate is established by residency not by a voucher endowment.
Democracy provides communal control and real choice for a social good that impacts beyond the school. Some want to abandon democratic schools under the banner of school choice, but democracy isn't supposed to be easy. It's supposed to be hard which makes strong policy. Expanding public dollars to private and charter schools is easy, but it creates a weak system with no democratic check on power.
Real choice in education is concerned with the decisions that will lead to the best school for a community's children. It involves speaking at public meetings, staying in touch with teachers, electing upstanding officials and keeping them accountable. It is an oversimplified notion that good policy will arise in schools based on the perception of choice. Good policy is formed by people connecting to their schools democratically rather than being sold on another ad campaign.
The existence of inequality in society is obvious. Some schools have better textbooks, facilities, and fewer teacher vacancies. Society creates our schools. Someone doesn't fix a hammer with a house. Schools are too precious of an idea to be thrown into a risk-laden market system that some call school choice. The real issue is to create a fair society: fair housing, fair wages and fair competition. This will be the tool to create fair schools with fair facilities, fair supplies and fair staffing.
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