OPINION: Charter Schools Hinder Progress


President Elect Donald Trump has nominated Betsy DeVos as Secretary of Education in his cabinet. This nomination, along with many of Trump’s other nominations, has been controversial. DeVos is a billionaire from Michigan and a huge advocate for charter schools and vouchers. Many believe she will follow through with Trump’s plan, which is to have $20 million go towards school choice and to use federal funding for private and charter schools at the expense of traditional public schools like Westwood and McNeil. If DeVos lets $20 billion go to financing school choice, we could be looking at drastic changes to traditional schooling.

Charter schools are public schools that are exempt from many of the regulations that other public schools must follow, but still receive federal funding. They offer different ways of teaching, including entirely different curriculum from  other public schools, and almost anyone can be a teacher in a charter school. They don’t have to be a state-certified teacher, or have any college degree for that matter. There has been some success stories with charter schools, one of the more famous examples being the city of New Orleans. After Hurricane Katrina destroyed many of the public schools, many charter schools began to pop up and now make up the majority of schools in New Orleans. Since the charter school reform, the percentage of proficient elementary and middle school children has gone up from 37% to 63%. However, one of the reasons the proficiency in elementary and middle school children is low is because much of the wealthy white population has left the city, so the families and people left are stuck in the cycle of poverty. Louisiana also has one of the lowest education standards in the country, so the children considered proficient may not do as well in another state like Maryland, which was rated the best state in the country for education 2016 according to US News.

But then there’s stories like Detroit, where charter schools are prevalent yet unhelpful. .

They were established to try and assist the failing public schools, but it is making the situation worse because these charter schools are not much better than the public schools. Students sometimes transfer multiple times in one year. Also, the schools are desperate to gain more students for more funding, so they will try to entice students with rewards and raffles that include iPads, laptops, and cash. Additionally, because charter schools aren’t regulated, it’s possible students are learning false facts, or nothing at all.

Schools should not be competitive with one another. If we continue to allow so much choice in our schools we do not foster better learning environments, we create schools finding cheap ways to gain attendance to their schools, like the raffles and iPads in Detroit. It would also cause students to transfer schools more if they keep receiving rewards for joining. It makes schools need a campaign mentality to survive and receive adequate funding, and a campaign mentality doesn’t create better education, it creates a bigger incentive to alter standardized test scores or to expel students who may bring those test scores down.

DeVos also supports vouchers, which are taxpayer dollars that can be used like a coupon to choose a public or private school of one’s choice. Anyone of any social and financial background can get one. Using federal money to pay for a private school goes against the idea of separation between church and state, and shouldn’t be allowed. It would also create an increase in taxes, as taxpayer’s would be paying for children to choose to go to school, even though they could be going to the public school they’re zoned to. If one chooses to go to private school, that’s ok, as that’s their choice. But part of choosing to go to private school is realizing that there is tuition. The government shouldn’t pay for a school with religious teaching.

All of this could jeopardize public school funding.  If more people are given the freedom to choose schools, charter schools are given a greater power because it is easier for charter schools to open due to the lack of regulations one might have to follow. We could have many more cities like Detroit, with so many options but with low quality education nonetheless. Though New Orleans is considered a success for charter schools, they are are unregulated and because of that, it’s easy for poor education to slip through and for children to learn false information. Yes, there may be some charter schools that are a better fit for a child than public schooling, but results from charter schools vary significantly, as shown from a study by the National Center for Education Evaluation and Regional Assistance.

DeVos and President-elect Trump support charter schools and vouchers, but it isn’t the right way to fix our schools. Charter schools are seen as the solution to the poorer education we as a nation face, but all it’s doing is spreading the federal funds too thin. The United States has fallen behind in our education and our public education system is one of the causes, but adding more choices that aren’t significantly better than public schools doesn’t solve the problem. All it does it add more mediocre options to the government to fund. If we can concentrate our time and efforts into traditional public schools instead of charter schools and vouchers, we would be able to improve the schools and provide everyone with equal education, and with a quality education regardless of social and financial background, all of the bright minds of the future can reach their full potential.