Thursday, January 26, 2017

DeVos Could Advance the ‘Civil Right’ of School Choice Across America

Betsy DeVos, Donald Trump’s nominee for Education secretary, came under heavy fire from the traditional public school establishment and from reactionary Democrats for her support for parental school choice and in particular for charter schools.

In response, former Jersey City, New Jersey mayor Bret Schundler penned an op-ed in her support. In Ex-N.J. education commissioner: Trump's pick is on the right side of history, Schundler said:

I'm experiencing a feeling of deja vu all over again and wondering if the Democrats' attacks on DeVos and school choice will simply produce a tsunami of reaction when the next national election comes around -- one that results in Republicans winning percentages of the minority vote not seen since the post-Civil War years, when the Democrats tried, in turn, to block the 13th Amendment (abolishing slavery), the Civil Rights Act of 1866, and the 14th Amendment (providing equal protection under the law). The school choice issue cuts powerfully. It is the civil rights battle of our generation -- and history has a way of rolling over those who resist the advancement of social justice.

Powerful stuff. Yes, parental choice is a civil right. More fundamentally, it is an unalienable individual right of parents to direct the course of their own children’s education—one exercised in Newark N.J. by a traditional public school teacher who chose Newark’s successful and growing charter school sector for her children. In I'm a Newark public school teacher, but I send my child to a charter school, Erica Fortenberry wrote:

I have taught in Newark's district schools for 17 years. Currently, I am in a school that works on behalf of the students. I would love to say that this is a consistent practice; but that is not the case in many schools.

As a district teacher, I have seen firsthand unbelievable bureaucratic waste. For years, the lack of consistent educational guidelines from the district offices, have caused conflicts in teaching and learning. Each change brings costly rounds of education materials, trainings, and curriculum development.

It is frustrating as a teacher in Newark and an alum of the Newark public school system to see first-hand what is happening in Newark.  But as a mother, it is terrifying.

Charter schools are a threat to the education establishment because they are more independent, largely non-union, and generally highly successful, even though they are funded by the same tax dollars that fund the traditional public schools. Typically, the money that would go to the traditional public school follows the child into the charter school should the parents so choose.

I believe in an education free market based on a complete separation of education and state. However, we can make progress toward educational freedom through various means, such as properly structured tax credits or education savings accounts (in which the per-pupil cost of the child’s local public school district gets deposited into a special account for parents to use according to their own judgement on what educational options are best for their child).

Charter schools are a positive option from a rights perspective. I am not a supporter of a Federal Education Department or of any federal involvement in education. But since we are stuck with it, let’s wish DeVos success in defeating the reactionary anti-choice demagogues, and in using the federal government’s influence to advance school choice across America.

Related Reading:

Charter Schools and their Reactionary Enemies--Part 1, Part 2, and Part 3


Anonymous said...

A free market in education:
As opposed to certified teachers with demonstrable knowledge of education practices, child development and psychology, etc, this would allow parents with no training, knowledge or even possible mental health, to decide what children learn and how. It's not unusual to hear of parents who abuse and even kill the children in their care. Assuming you feel this is undesirable, how would you prevent it?

Along the same lines, schools would be free to implement any curriculum they wish,. So, for example a Wahabi Madrassa might require only memorizing the Koran and inculcate violent jihad. Or closer to home Christian Dominionists, whose stated goal is to replace the US government with a theocracy, would be free to work towards that end. Again assuming these things are undesirable, what steps would you take to avoid them?

Michael A. LaFerrara said...


Plenty of "food for thought." You raise important issues and questions. I will answer them in an upcoming blog post scheduled for February 5.

Thanks for visiting.

Mike Kevitt said...

I haven't read your February 5 blog post yet, but here's my super short view.

The sacred script of both religions demand what is actually crime, meaning initiatory physical force. No curriculum which teaches that can be allowed under individual rights, law and government. This prohibition would disallow things that are already taught in curricula, religious and non-religious, public and private. This prohibition would violate nobody's rights.