We interrupt our regularly scheduled blog posts full of sweets, treats and fun eats, to talk about something else that I am pretty darn passionate about. Education. I am really not one to discuss political topics publicly. Education however, is different, especially when it comes to the problem with school choice. This is not about our president. This is not about right or left. It’s not saying school choice shouldn’t exist. It IS about a side of school choice that most people are simply not aware of.
Education, particularly public education, is incredibly important to me. It’s important to me not only as a parent and council member at two schools, but also as someone who has a number of family members and friends who are public school teachers. The current hot button education issue, the nomination of (unqualified) Besty DeVos as Secretary of Education, and her actions and opinions on school choice and taking money away from public schools… that is personal territory for me. So let’s talk about the problem with school choice that nobody seems to be talking about. One I don’t think many people are even aware of.
The Problem With School Choice
School choice sounds great in theory, it really, truly does! We have it here in Arizona and it can work wonderfully, and in many cases I think it does. We can choose what schools our daughters attend. We can choose between charter schools, private schools and open enrollment in public schools. We even have Empowerment Scholarships here, which will allow us to take the fund that our public school receives, and move them to a private school if we want to. We are home to many BASIS locations, one of the top rated schools in the country (though I will strongly argue that it says more about the students and parents that seek out BASIS than it does about BASIS, whose students are likely to be top achievers in any educational setting). We have a lot of GREAT choices in Arizona!
However the one thing about school choice that nobody seems to be talking about… TWO parties have to make a choice. Just because YOU choose a school, IT DOES NOT MEAN THE SCHOOL WILL CHOOSE YOU. Public charters and their supporters deny this, but they pick and choose. Nothing against charters, it’s just a fact. Even “ideal” students might not get a seat due to waiting lists, lotteries and the challenges of location and transportation. Private schools pick and choose without any justification, it’s how they work.
I have two daughters who attend two different schools. I have an eighth grader who has been educated through an incredible program in our public school for highly gifted kids. I also have a first grader who is in an equally amazing program, but for children with special needs. She’s in a self-contained special education classroom for children with communication disorders.
While we are very happy with the special education program our youngest is in, it’s not easy to make the choice to put your child in a special education classroom. Inclusion is thing that so many fight so hard for, it’s what they say is best for kids, which means we always wrestle with the fact that we did not opt for inclusion in a mainstream classroom. Because of that, I’m always evaluating our choices, and what options are available to her. In exploring those options, this year I have been in talks with FIVE SCHOOLS. Schools that specialize in learning disorders, multi-sensory learning and small classroom sizes. Schools that sell an education that seems custom made for our daughter. I’ve spoken with three charter schools and two private schools. And here is where the problem with school choice comes in. Guess how many were willing to open their doors and welcome her? ZERO. Not one out of the five schools.
I have listened to charter schools squirm as they said things like they might not have the resources for her, or that she might find their classrooms overwhelming. By law charter schools can’t turn kids away given their federal funding, so they won’t say “NO, YOU CANNOT ENROLL YOUR CHILD HERE”, but they know how to make it clear without saying those words. I’ve heard very direct “We’re sorry, but she’s not a good candidate for our school” from two private schools. Schools who both specialize in kids EXACTLY like her – programs for kids that do not have behavioral issues, but do have learning, sensory and communication issues. Schools that for all intense purposes seem custom made for her needs. Schools that she could be the poster child on the brochure for. Schools that would cost us more than college tuition. These schools don’t have to accept her. And thus far, they have not.
So that school choice thing, it’s not always the choice it’s made out to be. Sure, my oldest daughter who has spent her entire education in highly accelerated programs could choose from any school she wanted, and they would most likely roll out the red carpet for her and welcome her (and the high test scores she could give them). When it comes to those ever important test scores and statistics, she’d be quite the catch for any school. But not every child is like my oldest child, and I’d go as far as to guess that many more children are like my youngest. And those are the children who, without the proper supports and education, might have a very hard time succeeding in life.
When you come to the realization that public school is your only realistic “choice”, you start to REALLY appreciate the fact that they will take YOUR child, MY child, ANY child. They will provide a free and appropriate education for every child, even if that sometimes takes some pressure when you are dealing with special needs issues. For many children, public schools may truly be their best shot. And that is why the thought of defunding those public schools is terrifying. Are public schools perfect? Far from it. Do they play a vital role in our country? Without question. Do they need to be properly funded and supported (things they barely are as is)? ABSOLUTELY.
The idea that Besty DeVos, our likely soon to be Secretary of Education, is open to the idea of defunding public schools is devastating on a level that many people aren’t even aware of, especially when it comes to children with disabilities. And this isn’t my opinion, it’s a fact.
According to the Washington Post, “When policymakers have launched enthusiastically into expanding school choice programs for choice’s sake — that is, without serious quality controls or ongoing oversight — these programs have not been good for vulnerable children. This is a stable finding. For these kids, the low-accountability charter school, voucher or virtual/online school choice programs that DeVos favors don’t usually spontaneously create a bevy of new high-quality school options for these kids.”
Just a few articles that elaborate on the problems school choice can and is causing…
Chicago’s Neighborhood Schools Hurting As Choice Abounds – The Chicago Tribune (with an interesting look at how not only is it impacting schools, but it’s impacting neighborhoods).
According to the National Council On Disability, an extremely well researched policy paper found that, “The issue of extending vouchers to students with disabilities is not at all straightforward and is problematized by several important concerns.”
School Choice – As Long As Your Child Doesn’t Have A Disability – Huffington Post – reviews multiple lawsuits against charter and private schools for violations of the Americans With Disabilities Act.
Some may argue that school choice can be excellent for children with special needs, and for some children, I would agree. There are absolutely students with disabilities that can find the perfect school, one that addresses their specific needs. But there are many children like my daughter, who don’t have clear options. While my daughter has autism, she is what is often referred to as high functioning. Her learning disorders are a greater educational challenge than autism related issues. The schools I have looked at that specialize in students with autism are not a good fit for her, and most are made up almost entirely of boys. She is a child who needs individualized instruction at a much slower pace than her typical peers, but she also needs the social interaction and modeling that those typical peers can provide. She needs the chance to spend time with other girls in her school cheer club, and to play on the playground with other children in her grade.
There are so many complex issues when it comes to special education, and they become profoundly complex when you combine them with school choice. I think (and certainly hope) we can all agree that it is not acceptable to segregate students with disabilities or minority students. Yet if charter and private schools are not accepting of or providing for children with disabilities, and do not evenly reflect the area’s demographics, we’ve done just that, haven’t we?
School choice can be great. And I am not against it per se. What I am strongly against is the idea of Betsy DeVos possibly defunding and destructing our public schools. The schools that are home to many children who might not really have these great choices that Mrs. DeVos tries to sell people on, despite her lackluster track record. If this happens, many children, including my own daughter, would likely see the quality of their public schools and education decline. We will also most likely see a ripple effect that impacts communities and taxes. And that, my friends, is not in the best interest of our children, or our future.
DO YOU FEEL BETSY DEVOS IS THE WRONG CHOICE?
DO SOMETHING ABOUT IT! HERE IS HOW AND IT’S EASY.
If you too feel that Mrs. DeVos is NOT the right choice for Secretary of Education, let your senator know. ASAP. You can send an email here, but a phone call is a GREAT move as well. You can call through this website, it couldn’t be any easier.
Thank you for reading this post about an issue that is incredibly important and personal to me. You might stand on the other side of the fence, but I hope you can at least see some of the issues that some children could be facing. I didn’t even dive into the fact that Mrs. DeVos appears to not understand the federal laws that protect students with disabilities. That’s a whole other rant! Now I will step off my soapbox, pick up a child from public school, and get back to creating cupcake and brownie recipes for you.
The Problem With School Choice (That Nobody Is Talking About)