The straw man of school choice

hainesThe current presidential administration appears intent on unraveling our social fabric one thread at a time by further enriching the already wealthy and undercutting the middle class.

Nowhere is this political agenda more apparent than at the U.S. Department of Education, where President Donald Trump has put a profiteer and dilettante in charge of public education and threatens the most vulnerable citizens among us.

Secretary of Education Betsy Devos recently made a pitch for school choice in a speech at Harvard. During this speech, she fashioned an analogy likening school choice to choices made by consumers while finding a food truck to their liking. The students of Harvard engaged in mostly silent protest.

There is so much wrong with her analogy that it is hard to know where to begin. The conservatives of today have no interest in supporting any function of society that is not generating a profit for the wealthy cronies who fund campaigns. Skimming a profit margin for the investor class off the top of school budgets does not serve the best interests of children.

What does an expanded choice of food trucks mean to those who do not have the money to purchase lunch? At least one-in-five American children live below the poverty line. In a 21st century economy, the best education parents can afford will never suffice for those at the bottom of the economic ladder they are seeking to climb.

The secretary also suggested that not all food trucks render the same level of service, and that the market decides which ones survive. She still has no satisfactory solution for those who happen to dine at facilities that play fast and loose with regulations in the quest for profit. What happens to those who dine at food trucks that observe less stringently the rules of good hygiene?

In such a scenario, nutrition only improves for those fortunate enough to choose wisely.

Food trucks are mobile. They hit the road each morning bound for wherever customers are located. Schools are in a fixed location. Parents who work 14 hours each day will be hesitant to add hours to their commute by driving past three “neighborhood schools” in the quest to find a “for profit charter” that meets their child’s needs. Charters, therefore, serve a few while ignoring the many.

That we allow poorly resourced schools to exist in America’s poorer neighborhoods, in the first place, remains what Jonathan Kozol called, “The Shame of the Nation.” Kozol might have suggested a different food analogy by observing that children of the affluent have access to a veritable educational cornucopia while children of the impoverished fight for scraps.

For all who permit under-resourced schools to exist, a bit of chagrin is in order.

Last modified onWednesday, 21 March 2018 14:35
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