School Choice Is Like Choosing Where to Eat? Hardly!

Today’s blogger is Chris Gilbert, who is a doctoral candidate in Educational Leadership at Appalachian State University in Boone, North Carolina. His article, “Creating Educational Destruction: A Critical Exploration of Central Neoliberal Concepts and Their Transformative Effects on Public Education,” appears in the latest issue of The Educational Forum.

Since the election of President Trump in 2016, the phrase “school choice” has rapidly become commonplace in popular and political discourse. Through sheer repetition and careful messaging, supporters of school choice have worked to sterilize the phrase in order to make it appealing and ultimately normal.

For instance, during a speech at the Harvard Kennedy School, U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos (2017) compared school choice to a selection of food trucks surrounding the Department of Education. “Now,” she remarked, “if you visit one of those food trucks instead of a restaurant, do you hate restaurants? Or are you trying to put grocery stores out of business? No. You are simply making the right choice for you based on your individual needs at that time.”

In other words, school choice is akin to choosing where to eat. Nothing more. Nothing less.

Despite this attempt, and others like it, to downplay the significance of school choice, abundant evidence suggests that it is anything but inconsequential. As I discuss in my article in The Educational Forum, a body of research has shown that school choice mechanisms such as charter schools and school vouchers have had a number of negative educational and social impacts (Carey, 2017; Ravitch, 2014; Strauss & Burris, 2017).

Additionally, I discuss the larger ideas that have produced school choice, primarily those concepts of competition and individualism. In the educational reality produced by these concepts, schools function as competitive entities, families compete for voucher money and limited spots in charter schools, and teachers work against one another to receive paltry raises.

When I worked as a high school English teacher in North Carolina, I experienced this reality firsthand. As I discuss in my article, in 2014 I joined a campaign to push back against policies that sought to inject competition into schools and pit teacher against teacher. Through a statewide effort, teachers and other activists fought to replace notions of competition and individualism with collaboration and collectivism.

It is important to note that the competitive and individualistic reality we struggled against did not manifest by chance. Rather, it resulted from neoliberalism, the dominant social, economic, and political ideology of our time. Neoliberals believe that the logic of the market should dominate all aspects of our lives, and they seek to create an educational system that mirrors the corporate world.

While neoliberalism is certainly not new, and its effects have been apparent in the educational realm for some time, neoliberal notions of competition and individualism now have an unprecedented level of political support and threaten to become the new normal. In the present moment, it may be more important than ever before to step forward and dissent. I hope this message serves as an invitation to do so.

KDP is proud to partner with Routledge to share an essay from The Educational Forum with the education community. Access the article at Taylor and Francis Online, free through January 31, 2019.

 

References

Carey, K. (2017, February 23). Dismal voucher results surprise researchers as DeVos era begins. The New York Times. Retrieved from https://www.nytimes.com/2017/02/23/upshot/dismal-results-from-vouchers-surprise-researchers-as-devos-era-begins.html

DeVos, B. (2017, September 28). Prepared remarks by Secretary DeVos to JFK Jr. Forum at Harvard Kennedy School. Retrieved from https://www.ed.gov/news/speeches/prepared-remarks-secretary-devos-jfk-jr-forum-harvard-kennedy-school

Ravitch, D. (2014). Reign of error: The hoax of the privatization movement and the danger to America’s public schools. New York, NY: Vintage Books.

Strauss, V., & Burris, C. (2017, July 26). NAACP sticks by its call for charter school moratorium, says they are ‘not a substitute’ for traditional public schools. The Washington Post. Retrieved from https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/answer-sheet/wp/2017/07/26/naacp-report-charter-schools-not-a-substitute-for-traditional-public-schools-and-many-need-reform/?utm_term=.5f179b7ef7f7

It Is a Wake-Up Call for All of Us

Kappa Delta Pi helped bring the documentary “Rise Above the Mark” to Indianapolis on Friday. You can read all about the premier and panel that followed, which included education reformer Diane Ravitch, on Chalkbeat Indiana. Staff also wanted to share their feelings about the event:

staff“I was empowered by the movie and the discussion. Educators are passionate about the profession and know what changes need to happen for the betterment of all students and the future of our communities and country.” –West Regional Chapter Coordinator, Karen DeLawter

“The overwhelming number of teachers who attended the ‘Rise Above the Mark’ showing clearly demonstrated their passion and commitment to teaching, but also their great frustration with the current political mandates on the profession. Though teachers may not consider themselves advocates or political beings, they need to speak out and have their voices heard—so that they can teach in the ways they know are most effective and do what is best for every student.” –Publications Director, Kathie-Jo Arnoff

“Bringing ‘Rise Above the Mark’ to the Indianapolis community was important to Kappa Delta Pi not just to bring awareness about these issues to the citizens who might not know the struggles teachers face, but to also empower teachers to start a dialogue with their peers, administrators, and legislators. It was inspiring to hear the comments teachers were sharing in the Clowes Hall lobby after the panel. I’m excited to see what ripple effects this one film has on the teaching community.” –Director of Marketing panel& Communications, Laura Stelsel

“The premier of ‘Rise Above the Mark’ was a great opportunity to hear more about the state of education in Indiana. As a former teacher in both private and public schools, it was wonderful to hear both perspectives represented during the panel discussion following the film. I always love hearing multiple perspectives and agree that we need to continue to have more of these discussions to further improve the education of the next generation.” –Northeast Regional Chapter Coordinator, Katie Heath

“I appreciated having a venue where issues of critical importance to education in Indiana were discussed.  It is my hope that the conversation will continue in a productive way that serves to advance all stakeholders’ understanding of the challenges facing our schools so that all of Indiana’s children have equal opportunities for an excellent education.” –Executive Director, Faye Snodgress

banner“Attending this movie and panel presentation really raised my awareness of how the wrong people are now making decisions that affect every student and every teacher. We need to pay attention to what is going on in the legislature. It is a wake-up call for all of us.” –Event and Executive Coordinator, Anne Boley

“I appreciated the documentary serving as a voice for Indiana public schools, and I agree with the comments from Dr. Diane Ravitch that our communities need to be the ones holding THEIR teachers accountable. It is important to use a variety of both formative and summative assessments in the classroom, but I disagree that those should be mandated and evaluated by individuals or groups who do not know the students (or teachers!) on a personal level. The reason that our parents are wanting school choice is because they want someone to make a difference in their child’s life much like the impact a teacher had on them—it’s not all about the test scores. Why can’t we make public schools the schools of choice?” –Assistant Director of Membership & Chapter Services, Chris Beaman