Students Need Real Choices

Aside from her woeful lack of qualifications to run the United States Department of Education, Betsy DeVos is an advocate for so-called school choice which troubles many educators who view it as a direct attack on public schools and teacher unions.

I say embrace school choice. Do it right by vastly increasing everyone’s choices.

Let’s begin with the students in our classes every day. Let’s give them a say in what courses they take to meet graduation requirements. Stop forcing every student to take two or three years of mathematics or four years of English.

And, yes, let students and their parents choose where they go to school. Erase school district boundaries that segregate our children by ethnicity and social class and create the savage inequalities Jonathan Kozol wrote about 25 years ago. Open all schools to all children regardless of where we live and how much money their parents make or have inherited.

Bring on those vouchers and place no cap on them so that if a student and her parents choose Sidwell Friends for 26K or Avenues for 45K they can exercise those options regardless of their financial resources.

In other words, yes, let families choose schools rather than our current system in which schools and school districts choose students—based on where they live or how much they are worth or how easy it will be to teach them. And give students choices within their school. Empower them to take ownership of their education and work with teachers rather than for teachers and stop having strangers far removed from classrooms decide what their teachers should teach them and how.

The not-so-hidden agenda of so-called “school choice” advocates—weaken teacher unions, transfer resources from school districts that serve our poorest and most disadvantaged students to charter, private, and parochial schools—is cynical and pernicious and must be opposed.

Real school choice that is for every student—choice about where to attend and what to learn and how to learn it—is an ideal worthy of support. Those who propose elitist school choice policies—exclusionary and destructive and phony—are un-American and should not have access to our tax dollars.