I prefer to see an answer from someone who knows a lot about education and what is good and bad for it. Or you can also be a teacher/professor. Something like that.
I should probably avoid this question like the plague, and stick to writing about things like submarines and aircraft carriers (people tend not to get so upset about those). However, over the last couple of years, I’ve become very involved in this area, so let’s give it a shot.
This question is much bigger than Trump and public education
I believe this answer breaks down into three parts.
The immediate issue is whether choice and “privatization” (as we will presume is advocated by Trump and DeVos) is a good thing. In today’s world, private and charter schools are sucking money (and good students) from the public school system, and the public schools are consequently in a death spiral. This viewpoint is eloquently expressed in Diane Ravitch’ The Death and Life of the Great American School System: How Testing and Choice Are Undermining Education. Ms. Ravitch convincingly describes how she changed her position from being a pro-choice, charter school advocate, to that of an advocate for the public school system.
Private and charter schools lack the resources of the public school system. This is a major concern when advocating for alternate school choices. Who will have the responsibility to provide for exceptional learners, disadvantaged children, and various other needs? Additionally, private and charter schools generally do not provide transportation for their students.
The second issue is that our current education system is broken. This is well documented and recognized. One only needs to read countless articles about how the US ranks compared to other countries: in spite of massive spending on education, the US ranks at or below average on PISA scores.
On a national average basis, the US spends $12,296 per year per student. (Of course, this number varies widely between states). Of this expenditure, only 57% is spent on direct instruction. School is big business.
In public schools, the pupil/teacher ratio is 16.0; in private schools 12.5. However, not every teacher is in front of students. Turns out that public schools have 8 pupils for each staff member, while private schools have 6.
These are interesting numbers, and are likely to attract the attention of businesspeople who are interested in ROI.
Let’s spend a little time mulling over some of John Taylor Gatto’s thoughts about the education system. Mr. Gatto was named New York City Teacher of the Year in 1989, 1990, and 1991, and New York State Teacher of the Year in 1991, so he has spent some time in the trenches. He also questions the cost of public schools; in Dumbing Us Down: The Hidden Curriculum of Compulsory Schooling, he maintains that the US public education system is not designed to create students capable of independent, critical thinkers. He eloquently details how the public school system is failing our students.
The third issue (and the most important) is that we can’t fix the current system by opening charter schools and giving vouchers to parents. That’s like putting a band-aid on a severed artery when a tourniquet is needed. Doing so will cause the public school system to bleed to death, while replacing it with a poor substitute.
Providing school “choice” is only a viable option when the US educational system is completely reformed. And that means returning learning to where it belongs – to the teacher, the student, and the parent. It means the elimination of routine standardized testing (and, yes, of course I acknowledge the need to measure progress and mastery – but it does not have to be constant, and competitive). It means the abolishing of a national, one-size-fits-all curriculum. It means banishing administrators, school boards, county, state, and federal overseers from the classroom. Give our classrooms back to our teachers and students. Responsibility for my child’s education should reside at the lowest possible level. Period.
And there is the dilemma
Without sweeping reform, vouchers, charter schools, and private schools will not fix the problem. If DeVos and Trump implement school choice without overarching reform, they will fail – miserably.
I happen to be a libertarian, and somewhat of an idealist. I would love to see the sweeping reform take place. I would then love to see choice blossom (because I believe once teachers and students are set free from the current system, they would flourish).
But I am also a realist. I think it is extremely unlikely that we will soon see major reform in the education system. And if that reform does not happen first, then I’d rather see the public school system left in place – because, as bad as it currently is, it provides the best options to the greatest number of our children.