We all remember the scathing criticism given to our US Director of Education, Betsy DeVos, for her inexperience and general lack of knowledge regarding education as a whole during her nomination. The members of the Senate ripped her apart, publicly making her look like a fool. She is scorned by public educators across the nation. She is critiqued for a number of reasons, her proposal of slashing the public school budget and instead issuing vouchers to families to attend private and charter schools, and her lack of knowledge about basic education policies.
She has been accused of trying to privatize one of the most important civic institutions in our society, as if it is a bad thing; but is it? People advocate so heavily for the existence of our current public schools without looking closely at the very deeply flawed system we have in place. People complain about privatization of education because they fear that the richest people will be able to send their children to the best schools and the poor people will be left in the dust, without realizing that this is very much the reality we face in the American public school system already. People criticize a privatized school system because a teacher who does not agree with a policy run by the school could get fired, without realizing that allowing the teachers union to make it incredibly difficult to fire an incompetent teacher is equally as harmful.
Before we depict DeVos as a ditzy, uneducated, and evil person, we should look closely at ourselves and the flaws in the current system, and admit this truth: there are over 1500 “failure factory” high schools in the country that fail over 60% of students each year. Whether this could be solved by DeVos’s plans is to be determined, but she is not wrong for trying to change a failing system.
In the United States, public schools are generally funded by the taxes in their neighboring areas. In neighborhoods with lower overall income, the town will make less in taxes, therefore giving less money to school systems. Not only does this lower both the quantity and quality of resources available to the students in this town, but it lowers the wages that the teachers in these towns and cities make, giving them less incentive to stay there. This may lead to children receiving a poorer education at a public school just because their parents make less money. Their poorer education will disadvantage them later in life when attempting to apply to colleges or get jobs, making it less likely for them to achieve upward mobility. A criticism of DeVos’s proposed privatized system is that richer families will be able to afford to send their children to pricier, higher-quality, private schools while the poorer families will have only their issued voucher to send their children to charter schools. However, such an argument does not look at our current system with the same critical eye.
The idea behind a charter school in a poorer area with bad school systems attempts to provide privately funded, higher-quality education to children whose public schools likely would have failed them. For example, the film “Waiting for Superman,” directed by Davis Guggenheim, follows four families in their attempts to admit their elementary-age children into charter schools to try and give them a quality education instead of the poor one they would be receiving in their local public schools. These charter schools are shown to have motivated and intelligent teachers attempting new strategies to teach the children. Because these teachers are not protected by the teacher’s union, they maintain the motivation to continue being quality teachers because if they aren’t, they will be fired. In the film, there are huge numbers of families attempting to get into each of these schools so a lottery system is put in place to decide which kids get in, which kids get a quality future. The documentary exudes high stress levels as the viewer is rooting silently for these children to have a chance to get into these charter schools and at the end, we are all left wishing every student could have been accepted into schools like these. If every charter school that DeVos created was of this quality, children in America would be receiving the best education in history.
Obviously, not all charter schools will be perfect. It takes motivated teachers, funding, and resources to make a school function whether it is a charter school or a public school. The proposed plan to privatize school systems may fail drastically however, at least DeVos is not afraid to try and change a failing system. The bottom line is, continuing to allow the teacher’s union to protect inadequate teachers and allowing failure factories to exist without reform is not acceptable.
I in no way intend to advocate on Betsy Devos’s behalf. Her attempts to repeal policy that helps college students take out loans, her inability to support transgender rights, and the fact that she never has attended, sent her children to, or been involved in any way with a public school are all atrocious. She is entirely unqualified for her job. However, her attempts to at least recognise and try to change our failing education system are noble. The education system in the United States is sick and charter schools may be a cure.