As I mentioned in my previous post, three weeks ago, Besty DeVos spoke before congress for the first time since her confirmation. Of course, the topic of school choice was consistently brought up. In her responses, DeVos kept framing school choice as parent choice, which is the idea that local governments and parents, above all, know whats best for their child, and they should decide exactly which schools are deserving of those tax dollars.
But is that true? In theory, it sounds nice, but do all parents inherently know what is best for their child? What i mean to ask is are all parents equipped with tools that will inform them on different types of schools, curriculum, education policy, and school culture that exist? Most middle and upper income families probably have the resources necessary to make an informed decision about their children’s education. But what about families who have a history of/ currently live in poverty? You know, the families that voucher programs and school choice advocates claim they want to protect? Are these families, who have been exposed to and may only have access to low-performing schools, given the right tools to make a just decision for their children?
School/parent choice reform assumes that if students are allowed to move around more freely from school to school, then that means they will go to a high quality school. Parents mean well. Parents want the best for the children. But if parents simply do not have the resources to investigate whether or not a school is actually the best school for their child, as opposed to whether the school seems like the best school for their child (via accessible marketing and school representatives who know how to sell a dream), is parent choice, in this respect, more harmful than beneficial? Of course, parents who send their child to what they thought was a good school but turns out to be a bad fit for their child can will send their child to another school. But at that point, the damage is done, and switching from school to school has its own negative effects. So the real questions are:
- What will the Trump/DeVos adminitration do to better inform parents on school choice?
- Is informing parents on educational opportunities yet another issue for states to deal with, if states deem it important?
Unfortunately, while parents are well intentioned, there are for-profit schools, like k-12, Inc., that prey on those good natured but vulnerable parents. We need to talk about parent and family protections when it comes to school choice. We need to not regard parent education and awareness as a taboo issue. And, yes, we need to be careful to inform parents of options and not push our opinions on whatever we think are the best options.