Education Secretary Betsy DeVos’s characterization of our country’s historically black colleges and universities as a case study in the efficacy of “choice” offended a great many people who rightfully trace the roots of HBCU’s to a heritage of racism rather than entrepreneurism.
For those of us in the charter world, however, these remarks caused additional heartburn. Our nation’s most respected civil rights advocacy groups, like the NAACP, now have further evidence to distrust the motives of charter advocates and to characterize our movement as a stalking horse for privatization.
Much of this, way too much of this, flows from a single-minded belief in the application of market-based principles, specifically “choice,” to education. “Choice” is a big word and most of us have a good understanding of how it works in our schools and in our lives. It’s a good word—we just hate to see it abused. Choice alone does not guarantee equity or excellence.
A loosely regulated market works well to produce consumer goods and services and the best TV the world has ever seen. But it’s magical thinking to believe that the force of the market, by itself, will yield more equitable outcomes in education than it has in healthcare. We need good policy; we need good authorizers.
We insist that “charter schools are public schools” not only as a means to advocate for equitable funding, but as a means to hold ourselves accountable for working in the public interest. And, just as we’ve pledged to share lessons learned from our autonomy with the broader world of public education, we need to advocate for policies that benefit all public education. Those policies need to be based upon equity, solid pedagogy, respect for the whole child and the need of society to improve its democracy and educate a generation that can address the awful problems our generation is leaving them. Choice is a good idea, but as educators we need to insist on the primacy of sound practice over market-oriented reform.