How can we prevent Betsy DeVos from ruining public education?

What are things individuals can do to maintain some semblance of an education standard for the future of the United States, e.g. what initiatives should I be aware of that I can volunteer at, what online resources exist to help me teach, etc.

devos

Written Feb 15

I believe we will see changes to the US education system in the coming years. Changes which will be driven by Betsy DeVos and the Trump administration may include an increase in the number of charter schools, and possibly the use of vouchers to allow parents more choice in which schools their children attend.

 

These changes may have a negative impact upon public schools. Specifically, they are likely to draw off “better” students from public schools, as they are attracted to private / charter / homeschools. The drawdown in school attendance, and the impact on the quality of the student body, is likely to make public schools look even worse than at present.

Furthermore, unless specific provision is made for exceptional / disabled / challenged students, the public schools could end up as the “school of last resort” for those students.

So, what does this mean? Is it a good or bad thing?

Well, it turns out that, when you remove all the variables that affect differences in school populations (such as socio-economic status, etc.), it turns out that there is very little difference between the performance of public, private, and charter schools. The biggest single predictor of school performance is the socio-economic status of the school population. (In fact, there are some studies which suggest that public schools provide a better education, principally because they generally offer a greater variety of curricular options).


There is a far bigger topic which could impact public education, and this one is not generally associated/discussed with DeVos and the Trump administration – the level of bureaucracy (including standardized testing) which is imposed at levels above the local level.

The US and many other educational systems have a set of assumptions baked into them that have become so routine that they are accepted as “normal”. Some of these assumptions include:

  • a standard set of (minimum) curricular requirements to graduate from high school. For example, these may include a specific number of years of math, english, language, etc.
  • an orderly progression of curricular requirements. For example – pre-algebra; algebra 1/2; geometry; etc.
  • Competitive grades (in fact, a competitive system)
  • Homework
  • Broadcast” mode of teaching (i.e. teacher lectures while students receive the accepted “correct” answers)
  • standardized tests (at many levels)

Of course, I understand that not every school follows each of these norms, but I believe that their practice is generally common.

Many of these norms are inherently supported by rules and regulations at the school board, state, and federal level. It is therefore difficult for any system which depends upon compliance by these bodies to deviate from the norm.


To me, the most interesting changes to the (US) public education system will occur only if many of these requirements are removed. Please note that I am not advocating removal of the need for a curriculum, or for testing, etc. Instead, I am advocating the removal of the REQUIREMENT for these mandates. I strongly believe that decisions regarding these type of choices should be made at the local level – teachers and parents agreeing on the best choices for the students. (In fact, I am of the opinion that students should have an important voice in these decisions also).

I believe that unless fundamental changes are made to remove many of these restrictions, then attempts to increase charter schools and/or vouchers will likely fail (or at least result in no improvement to the overall quality of the US education system.

In summary, I believe that the US education system requires fundamental change. The ideas about charter schools and vouchers being discussed in the popular press have potential to bring about some of this change. However, significant improvement can only be realized if additional fundamental changes accompany the steps under discussion.