School Choice: Only Two Steps Removed From Slave Ownership?
The title is a tad bit provocative and deliberately so. This is an issue that I have only become engaged with more recently, now that my oldest child is almost at the age to start school. One of the most interesting things to me is the controversy that surrounds it.
When President Trump appointed Betsy DeVos as Secretary of Education, there was an inordinate amount of caterwauling from the left that I found perplexing but mostly ignored. Now that my child is getting to be closer to school age, I’m more interested.
One of the biggest charges against DeVos is that she favors school choice and is a proponent of vouchers for private schools for families that would otherwise not be able to afford a private education for their children as well as for more alternative schools like charter and magnet schools. She is also for the decentralization of education and would like to have more control in the hands of the local and state governments rather than the federal government. Pretty sinister stuff.
Full disclosure: I’m not a teacher or any kind of school worker in either a public or private school. My only relationship with school is that I was a student for many years of my life and have plenty of higher education debt to show for it, and since graduating from chiropractic school have been approved by the clinical education department to mentor interns at my place of employment. I’m not a policy guru and haven’t studied Ms. DeVos’ life story. Nor do I wish to do so. But I am interested in the education of my children and would like them to get the best possible, which is probably the same position that most parents have.
I started out by acquainting myself with my local assigned public schools and how they perform. This led me to look at various groups (Great Schools, Niche, and School Digger, among others) which rate schools based on a variety of attributes, with test scores being the biggest factor. In turn, this led me to read various treatises about the virtue of school ratings, which is the inspiration for this article.
I won’t go into detail about the articles I read or my reaction to them. I’ll just give you the gist of the stance of the majority of opponents of school rating systems: school ratings systems are racist and are the cause of school re-segregation. They’re racist because test scores are the biggest determining factor in rating a school, and apparently since African-American and Hispanic students do not generally do as well as Caucasian and Asian students on standardized tests, relying on the rating system to decide if a school is good is tantamount to racial profiling.
The assumption is that parents with the means to choose (either by relocating or utilizing open enrollment options and transporting their children to school themselves) will choose the more highly rated schools. To me, that sounds logical and reasonable. But apparently, allowing parents to choose the school that will educate their child is responsible for re-segregation and badly performing schools.
Indeed, several of the opponents of school choice even went so far as to demonstrate their clairvoyant prowess, declaring that “test scores” is just code for “more white,” and that the real reason for parents moving their child from a badly performing to a high performing school is not really due to test scores but actually due to wanting to keep their child out of a school with minorities. As I said, they must be very gifted to be able to read the minds of all those parents to discern their true intentions.
Ok, so I’m being unnecessarily sarcastic here, but I’m trying to prove a point. While I realize that some of the companies that rate schools are for-profit companies with their own agendas, why is it bad to want to know how a school is performing? Isn’t the point of school to teach students things and have them demonstrate their knowledge in the form of tests? Why is it wrong to judge schools on their outcomes?
Besides, test scores are not the only determining factor in any of the systems’ grading formula. Student progress is given almost equal weight to test scores, which is a good thing when you’re starting with a class of students who are behind academically but make great improvements throughout the school year. In addition, schools are scored on the diversity of their student bodies, how well they serve economically disadvantaged students, and on the reviews of parents and students.
In this age where people are demanding more accountability from other public services (law enforcement, for instance), what is wrong with desiring it from schools?
* Christine Luc is a chiropractor, mother, and small business owner who still manages to find time to rant about the government. She also likes conspiracy theories but needs to fix her tinfoil hat before engaging in any new ones.
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