Caleb’s Conception: With or without school choice, standards necessary

Caleb Bolin 
Political Columnist

With new administrations getting rolling and focusing on immigration, terrorism, the economy and health care, it is surprising that there has been almost no talk about the challenges facing students and educators around the country.

Some of these issues include providing all students with equal opportunity regardless of income; making sure students are ready for a variety of tasks, including pursuing higher education and joining the workforce; and holding schools accountable for the readiness of students for life after formal education.

On Feb. 7, President Donald Trump’s nominee for Secretary of Education, Betsy DeVos, was confirmed by a 51-50 margin in the Senate after Vice President Mike Pence broke the 50-50 tie.

One of the many reasons why DeVos’s confirmation was so hotly debated was that she would like to reallocate federal tax dollars from traditional public schools in order to fund school vouchers for individual students. She also has said that she would like to see the end of the Common Core–standards for what students should be able to achieve by the end of certain grade levels around the country.

During her confirmation hearing, DeVos, who never attended a public school nor worked in school administration, attempted to defend her stances on the Common Core standards and school vouchers. She did not seem to know that the standards are, according to the Common Core website, set by governors and state commissioners of education from 48 states, two territories and D.C. and are not federally enforced or mandated.

Proponents of Common Core argue that it holds states to equal levels of accountability, ensures the preparedness of students for life-long education and the workforce, and contemplates that students can move anywhere in the country and be expected to be at the same level of education.

Those who oppose the standards believe they stifle teachers, infringe on states’ rights to choose what their students need to be able to do and cause classes to be taught toward the tests that measure student progress.

For years, DeVos, a billionaire, has adamantly poured money into the coffers of various organizations, many of which support charter schools in her home state of Michigan. She believes charter school vouchers will allow impoverished students to get a better education.

In a speech on Feb. 22, to the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC), DeVos talked about how the nation’s test scores were flatlining; how putting money into schools had not improved them; and how providing equal opportunities for a quality education is an imperative that all students deserve.

As a stark contrast to her statements on equal opportunity at the CPAC, just a few weeks before, when Sen. Tim Kaine (VA) asked if she agreed that all schools receiving tax dollars should be held to the same standard as traditional public schools, DeVos refused to agree. Apparently students should be given the same opportunities to choose schools without the schools of their choice being held to the same standards of quality education.

DeVos also struggled when asked by Sen. Michael F. Benet (CO), himself a supporter of charter schools, what she had learned from the failures of charter schools in Detroit, the largest city in DeVos’s home state. Benet added Michigan charter schools performed worse across the board than traditional public schools. In response, DeVos tried to give Benet better context of Detroit and said, “A lot has gone right there,” without answering his question.

To see the current Secretary of Education refusing to hold schools accountable for poor student performance highlights her ignorance or apathy to the fact that when failing charter schools are allowed to continue to receive funding, students suffer. Putting the ability to choose a school first without considering the quality of the choices available is wrong.

U.S. President Donald Trump congratulates Education Secretary Betsy DeVos during a parent-teacher conference listening session in the Roosevelt Room of the White House on Feb. 14, 2017 in Washington, D.C. Photo from Olivier Douliery/Abaca Press/TNS (c) 2017

When under-performing charter schools receiving government funding are allowed to continue serving students, schools also may close in the middle of the year, forcing students to go to public schools that cannot accommodate the influx of the students due to a lack of space and a lack of funding, hurting the traditional public schools.

 

Whether or not charter school vouchers are made a reality around the nation, standards for education and accountability must remain in place. Without them, schools can fail students and then fail altogether, like many of the charter schools in Michigan did.

Schools must be held accountable for student performance and held to the same standards in every part of the country. After all, we are many states, but we are one nation that must have equally and consistently prepared students.

Giving families school choice is great in theory, but without high-quality choices, there is no real choice at all.


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