It’s Time to Stop Tinkering in Education

The anti-public education storm that was Betsy DeVos is finally on the way out. But another storm is coming. The anti-public education movement continues to be strong. Pro-charter and pro-voucher advocates aren’t disappearing just because DeVos is out. The new Secretary of Education has the opportunity to change the countries’ direction now.

Here’s what I would put on the agenda:

  1. Put public schools first; end the federal Charter Schools Program (CSP).
    • Charters cost school districts large amounts of money. In 2019 alone, LAUSD lost $591 million to charter school operators.
    • Even charter schools that never open or shut down cost money. According to the NPE’s 2019 report “Still Asleep at the Wheel,” the federal government has spent $1.17 billion on charter schools that never opened or shut down. That constitutes 37% of the charter schools that the government funded through their Charter Schools Program (CSP).
  2. No vouchers…no way!
    • Frank Adamson, a research at the Stanford Center for Opportunity in Education, wrote an eloquent piece on the danger of vouchers at the federal level. A quick summary of his arguments include: vouchers eliminate the separation of church and state as they can be used for private schools with religious affiliations; vouchers exacerbate social stratification by taking resources from schools that serve low-income students; and vouchers will further erode accountability in education.
  3. Close inequities in school funding
    • There is both ample evidence of disparities in per pupil spending and the benefit of increased per pupil spending (Jeff Ralkes and Linda Darling-Hammond summarize the issue well here): “In most states, children who live in low-income neighborhoods attend the most under-resourced schools.” The reality is that children in America grow up with vastly different opportunities. Schools can’t make up for all of the inequity, but they certainly shouldn’t exacerbate them.
  4. Curb standardized testing
    • Back when Barack Obama was first running for president, I watched a town hall that he gave decrying the amount of standardized testing students endured each year under No Child Left Behind (the George W. Bush era version of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act). Yet in his eight years in office, President Obama pursued a test-heavy agenda. His administration’s Race to the Top grants linked teacher evaluation to outcomes on standardized tests. It wasn’t until 2015, 7 years into his presidency, that Obama pulled back on standardized testing. The administration pulled back slightly on linking test scores to teacher evaluations and argued for less testing. Still, the focus on standardized testing remains strong. Standardized tests and preparation for them take valuable time that could be spent learning.
  5. Get real about school improvement: address poverty, healthcare, and hunger for children.
    • Schools can only do so much to counteract the long-term effects of poverty. In 2018 nearly 1 in 6 children lived in poverty. That is “nearly 11.9 million children.” Poverty has long-term effects on student outcomes. Students from low-income households are likely to experience unstable housing, less access to healthcare, and hunger.
  6. Forgive student loan debt
    • According to the Federal Reserve Program, the average college student loan debt is $32,731. In 2019 the student loan debt in the United States totaled approximately $1.6 trillion. Even forgiving up to $10,000 in student loan debt per person as proposed in the Heroes Act would provide relief for millions of Americans.

Although Democrats seem to think that what we need to do in the United States is just tinker at the edges, the fact that 70 million people still voted for Trump after years of lies and corruption and months of mishandling a global crisis should be a giant wake up call that we are ready for bold action. Hillary lost for several reasons, but one was that Obama didn’t get it done. He didn’t change or improve people’s lives. He was simply charming and ineffective. Hillary ran on the slogan of maintaining the status quo. Clearly, that is not what we need. While I have little faith that our new education secretary will take the bold steps necessary to change the course of education in this country, if he even did one of these it would be a start.

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