DeVos and the Charter School Initiative
Charter School or Public School? It may not be that easy of a decision. As someone who is not an “educator” in the traditional sense, I admit that my opinions of Education Secretary DeVos and her policies likely differ from some and probably for different reasons. I am also acutely aware that any leader will have both good and bad ideas. However, as a public high school student and a recurrent student of a private university, I do have some insight regarding certain contrasts regarding her policy of educational choice. Of course, I’m not sure that too much insight is necessary. Much of this is self-evident to those simply willing to look without a partisan eye.
A simple scroll through the internet demonstrates that DeVos is a controversial figure. I ponder this. Is this because of her policies, or is this because she is a member of Trump’s cabinet? Is it because she was not a public school teacher, or is she trying to shake things up? It’s hard to tell, but this divisive atmosphere encourages me to dig deeper.
Secretary DeVos has and continues to call for more charter schools (Press Office, 2019). This has been highly criticized. For example, Tim Knowles, former head of the Urban Education Institute at the University of Chicago, has said: “Charters were horribly messianic in their narratives about how they were going to change the world and make it more equitable (Richards & Thompson, 2019).” He went on to say that “In reality, some were great, and some were about the same as regular public schools, and some were much worse.” So some are great, some are okay, and some are bad? Fine, but how is that any different from public education?
Another reason for the criticism is that some charter schools have closed due to low performance or funding issues, and several are even under investigation for things such as fraud (Greene, 2019). Is this somehow different from public education? Low performance is more common in public education than some might think (Center on Education Policy, 2019). However, public schools often don’t close. Instead, they get to continue to be a drain on taxpayers. In fact, many states reward poor performance by increasing their funding (Pascual, 2016). This probably sends the wrong message.
Then you have public school fraud issues such as enrollment fraud (or residency fraud), admitting unqualified students into disability-related programs, the use of “ghost students,” time-theft, vendor fraud, fraud regarding the E-Rate program, grant misuse, paying kickbacks to secure contracts and of course, embezzlement issues (Werra, 2018). And let us not forget recent reports of some of the lowest-performing schools having the highest-performing teachers (Corbin, 2018). Is this the smoking gun for grade changes or a demonstration of how so many students meet their marks in high school but somehow over half are not ready for college-level courses (Chen, 2019)?
Evidently, experts say DeVos is beginning to leave a long-term impact on the issue by opening the debate over what counts as a “good education (Reilly, 2017).” Is that a bad thing? Should this not be continuously scrutinized and debated? I believe this to be a good thing as I have often criticized the broken public education system. Besides, with college preparedness scores in English and math being at a 15-year low, the way we have been doing it clearly hasn’t been working (ACT, 2019).
I don’t understand the threat, aside from perhaps shining a brighter light on the poor performance of some public schools and forcing a change across academia. True, enrollment in charter schools continues to rise, but the fact is that charters only enroll about six percent of the nation’s public school students (Jason, 2017). However, there must be something to that model because even some public education schools are beginning to emulate various elements (Mathewson, 2019).
Despite the political spin, research has demonstrated that, in many cases, charter schools are just as good (or bad) as public schools. However, in many urban cities, where many low-performing public schools are located, charter schools have significantly outperformed their public school counterparts (CREDO, 2015). Again, this is a good thing. The irony is that this has been known since 2015, well before DeVos even got the job. I think this demonstrates the politics surrounding the issue because charter schools have only recently begun to get an abundance of bad press.
I cannot speak for her, but it seems that the spirit of what DeVos wants (at least on this policy) is programs that allow parents and students a choice between public and private schools. I can appreciate that. Having that choice is vital to many Americans, and I am one of them. At the end of the day, some are bad, and some are awesome. I like the idea of extended school days and stricter rules regarding student behavior that many charter schools provide. I see this as a good thing.
Regardless, we must keep the kids and our collective future in mind. We shouldn’t ignore good ideas because we don’t like someone’s politics. Similarly, we shouldn’t support bad ideas just because we agree with someone’s politics. If we really want what is best for our children and our future, then having the best education will be necessary. Having a choice will force the change we need, and innovation in that process will be critical. This is especially true considering what the status quo has (and has not) provided. Parents and students should be free to seek the best option for them. This will always force the lesser alternative to be more competitive or go away. I think anything that can foster that type of environment is positive and that those who resist are merely trying to protect their honeypot. Ultimately, charter schools are likely not going to be a long-term solution. However, they have demonstrated the importance of alternatives while shedding some much-needed light on the necessity of change and the possibility of quality.
I agree that we must always make sound decisions based on our best data. However, when it comes to innovation, sometimes the only thing we know is that something isn’t really working. That’s when we must try something new; to collect different data. That’s the part that many simply forget. And when it comes to our education system, we know a LOT of things are not working, but we don’t have many answers regarding the fix. We should probably be piloting several different programs at this point.
Additionally, and to provide some clarity, just because something doesn’t demonstrate “improvement”, doesn’t necessarily mean that it demonstrates a deterioration. Such a statement cannot always be taken at face value. Studies have demonstrated that many of these alternatives are “just as good” (or just as bad) as traditional options. That’s a great place to start. Of course, I think competition is critical. Competition drives innovation and improvement. So while the chosen option may not be “better” by the numbers, fierce competition between the options might be the catalyst for improving our education system.
Then we must factor in the funding. My opinion on this is not usually very popular. However, regarding public vs. charter, it is my opinion that ANY school (or educational service) should NOT be paid for students they do not see and that each student should represent a certain dollar amount – which goes to the victor of the decision made by the family. The fact is that economies (and governments) benefit greatly from a well-educated population. Therefore, it is actually in the best interests of everyone to ensure that students become well-educated. Where this happens (be it a great public school or charter school) is quite irrelevant. The result for the economy is the same. So, it behooves the public to support and fund the QUALITY programs – wherever they may be. Similarly, schools should not get extra funding when they continue to fail, just as bad teachers should not be rewarded for bad results. I believe that approaching education in this way would radically transform our system.
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ACT. (2019, October 30). Retrieved from www.act.org/condition2019
Center on Education Policy. (2019). Number of Low-Performing Schools by State in Three Categories (CSI, TSI, and ATSI), School Year 2018-19. Washington, DC: The George Washington University – Graduate School of Education and Human Development.
Chen, G. (2019, January 19). Are High School Graduates Ready for College? Studies Are Dismal. Retrieved from https://www.publicschoolreview.com/blog/are-high-school-graduates-ready-for-college-studies-are-dismal.
Corbin, C. (2018, September 11). Lowest-performing schools report high-performing teachers. Retrieved from https://www.idahoednews.org/news/lowest-performing-schools-report-high-performing-teachers/.
CREDO. (2015). Urban Charter School Study Report on 41 Regions. Urban Charter School Study Report on 41 Regions. Retrieved from https://urbancharters.stanford.edu/download/Urban Charter School Study Report on 41 Regions.pdf
Greene, P. (2019, March 29). Report: The Department Of Education Has Spent $1 Billion On Charter School Waste And Fraud. Retrieved from https://www.forbes.com/sites/petergreene/2019/03/29/report-the-department-of-education-has-spent-1-billion-on-charter-school-waste-and-fraud/#4e05483227b6.
Jason, Z. (2017). The Battle Over Charter Schools. Retrieved from https://www.gse.harvard.edu/news/ed/17/05/battle-over-charter-schools.
Mathewson, T. G. (2019, August 22). States increasingly extend charter-like flexibility to district schools. Retrieved from https://hechingerreport.org/states-increasingly-extend-charter-like-flexibility-to-district-schools/.
Pascual, P. P. article. (2016, March 3). Low-performing schools. Retrieved from https://www.greatschools.org/gk/articles/low-performing-schools/.
Press Office. (2019, October 10). Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos Announces New Initiative to Support Opening and Expanding Charter Schools in Opportunity Zones. Retrieved from https://www.ed.gov/news/press-releases/secretary-education-betsy-devos-announces-new-initiative-support-opening-and-expanding-charter-schools-opportunity-zones.
Reilly, K. (2017, December 15). Betsy DeVos: The Biggest Controversies From Her First Year. Retrieved from https://time.com/5053007/betsy-devos-education-secretary-2017-controversies/.
Richards, E., & Thompson, C. (2019, March 28). Betsy DeVos calls for more charter schools even as they spark investigations across the country. Retrieved from https://www.usatoday.com/story/news/education/2019/03/27/charter-school-betsy-devos-school-choice/3251111002/.
Werra, E. (2018, November 10). The 6-Step Fraud Test. Retrieved from https://www.skyward.com/discover/blog/skyward-blogs/skyward-executive-blog/november-2018/the-6-step-fraud-test.