In an attempt to thoroughly depress myself, I’ve been watching the confirmation hearing of Betsy DeVos. Her advocacy of charter schools and vouchers terrifies me because privatizing schools is pretty much the worst idea in the world. At one point I paused the hearing to call Patty Murray’s office to beg her to keep up the tough questions and do everything within her power to ensure that DeVos doesn’t get confirmed. However, my ability to make a coherent argument on Patty Murray’s voicemail was hindered when I started crying.
So I’m a little biased here, having been a public school teacher for eleven years in three different states. But is it really that radical to suggest students should all receive an equal education?
Because charter schools don’t provide equality. Anymore. Initially, they were supposed to. Charter schools were conceived to be hubs of innovation where students from any zip code could be educated by teachers who were committed to reforming and improving education.
However, the ability to private, monetize, and select students have corrupted this initial vision. Here’s how:
- Charter schools can often pick and choose their students, while public schools must educate anyone in their service area.
- Charter school students specifically apply for their desired school. This acts as an initial barrier. Those who are unwilling or unable to apply go to a public school. Families who seek out a specific school tend to have kids who are more likely to succeed in class. If all these kids (and their parents) are no longer invested in public education, the quality of public schools will diminish.
- Charter schools often get huge contributions from individuals and edtech corporations. While this does often benefit students, it also can lead to a huge conflicts of interest, which in the long run do NOT benefit students.
- Despite the fact that charters can often select their own students and get millions of donations of private individuals and corporations, there is no evidence that charter schools categorically educate students better than public schools.
- While charter schools often call themselves “public,” they have private boards. This had led to several cases of gross mismanagement, fraud, and abuse. (John Oliver highlights some of these instances) In her confirmation hearing Betsy DeVos emphasized that she does NOT believe that all schools should be held to the same accountability measures. In Washington State, this had led to the State Supreme Court deeming charter schools unconstitutional. On a national level, the NAACP has stated its opposition to charter schools.
- Vouchers and charter schools take money from public schools. When my kick-ass senator Patty Murray asked Betsy DeVos: “Can you commit to us tonight that you will not work to privatize public schools or cut a single penny to public education,” DeVos talked around the question and didn’t answer. “I take that as not being willing to commit to not cutting money from education,” Murray summarized.
The privatization of charter schools became glaringly obvious to me last summer when I was working on a story about the role of data in education. I interviewed dozens of people for the story: public school teachers, OSPI officials, university profs, and both charter and private school teachers and administrators. I visited Summit Sierra, a charter school in Seattle for the story. While Summit Sierra seemed like a great school with great teachers (which I mentioned in the article), their message to me was very much controlled.
When I speak with people involved with public schools they give me their unfiltered take on educational subjects and allow me to write my story. This is not the case with charter and private schools. Conversations were carefully controlled by HR personnel and writing decisions were challenged. Charter school officials didn’t like that I mentioned that they got undisclosed sums of money and resources from Facebook, didn’t like that I mentioned that the application process could be a barrier to entry, and went to great pains to provide me with unsubstantiated evidence of scores that indicated student growth. Their attempts to control the story spoke volumes about the role that charter schools play in our society.
Public education is worth fighting for. Always. Let’s do it.