The School Choice movement is at the heart of Conservative plans to transform education in the United States. After the election of Donald Trump, school choice is obviously going to feature prominently in his upcoming administration. His appointment of Betsy DeVos, a school choice proponent with zero experience in public education, to be Secretary of Education highlights his preference for School Choice.
For those who don’t understand the concept, or even worse support it, School Choice is a system where the money allocated to individual students is given directly to families instead of to the school district. With that money parents will be given a choice of their local public school or vouchers for private schools, out of district public schools, charter schools or home school their children. The stated goal is to empower parents to provide their children with the best educational options while forcing underperforming schools to open themselves up to competition and “up their game” in order to get more students to attend.
This type of thinking presents a myriad of problems, some of which pose an existential threat to the public school system, and the children that attend them. School choice doesn’t support teachers. This is a fact. Parents, usually the victim of unreasonable expectations, will more often than not decide on a school based solely on test scores. Instead of allowing teachers the flexibility to provide new and innovative lesson plans for their students, teachers will be forced to train students to be good test takers, or in other words putting teachers at the mercy of standardized testing. Teachers failing to produce high test scores, even if their students are widely successful at every other metric, could find themselves punished with decreased salaries, disciplinary action and even possible termination. These actions do nothing to produce better teachers and will further encourage those wanting to take up teaching to seek other professions with less political insecurity. Good teachers can easily be scapegoated and fired based on test scores as the only metric of success. Asking teachers and potential teachers to be the scapegoat for a systemic problem is kicking the can down the road and not acting responsibility towards kids.
There are plenty of things we can do as a society to increase proficiency and student performance in the framework of our current public school system. Multiple studies have shown decreased class size and therefore increased individualized instruction can be widely beneficial to students in failing schools. Addressing students trapped in poverty and unable to complete proper home instruction after hours, providing quiet study space and access to supplemental resources. All this makes the argument that what is lacking at public schools is proper teacher support, lack of resources and targeting those students needing the most help. None of this will be addressed by School Choice. School choice will deplete these resources further and give them to schools that are better at marketing than performing, making the conclusion that School Choice is bad for kids and bad for teachers and mostly bad for public education.