For the school choice lobby — including billionaire Betsy DeVos — this is a chance to make specious claims without referencing where their data came from. Their claims about the impact of school choice policies without citation are kindred to “alternative facts” and should be regarded as such.
We should take the opportunity offered by National School Choice Week to demand accountability from school choice proponents.
As a parent of a 4-year-old who will be enrolling in kindergarten in Detroit next year, I think a lot about my daughter’s schooling. Contrary to how Campanella thinks of children, I don’t think of my daughter’s education as a pair of shoes or a new phone or some other consumer purchase. I can’t fathom comparing decisions about her education to choosing the color of a text font.
Public education is different. It is a common good my neighbors, most of our city, most of our state and my daughter depend on. What I want for my own daughter, what I want for all children. School choice policies are compromising high quality for all. Although the consumer metaphor is woefully inadequate, I can’t help but ask: What’s the point of lacing up the best pair of shoes for myself if everyone else on my team has to play barefoot?
Michigan’s school choice policies are not improving the quality of public education in our state. According to the Detroit Free Press, in 2003, Michigan was ranked the 28th state in fourth grade reading. In 2015, we were ranked 41st.
Choice advocates assume that competition between schools will lead to innovations and improved performance. However, most schools are narrowing curriculum and focusing on test preparation. The high stakes testing culture created by school choice policies stifles innovation.
Recently, the operator of one of Detroit’s higher performing charter schools confessed to me that the high stakes testing, used to rank schools in the name of facilitating parental choice, has hurt their ability to offer well rounded education.
Testing has not improved learning outcomes for traditional public or charter school students. According to an Ed Trust- Midwest Report using data from 2013-14, 70 percent of Detroit charter schools are ranked in the bottom quarter of the state’s schools, and according to the 2015 National Assessment of Educational Progress, Detroit Public Schools are very low performing. After years of school choice policy in Michigan, the data confirm that test scores are not improving.
School choice is not a rising tide lifting all boats.
Instead, school choice policies have created a system where public dollars are spent on advertisements instead of learning, and where schools lure students on count day with shiny bikes. When parents try to get involved or raise concerns about their children’s education, they are told to go shopping somewhere else.
Instead of helping schools, school choice policies destabilize the districts that parents choose to send their children to. This November, The Economic Policy Institute released a report showing that unregulated charter school growth has led to fiscal stresses and inefficiencies that compromise a district’s ability to provide a high quality education. This is one of the reasons why the Detroit Public Schools, as whole, has continued to struggle in the last 20 years.
Most disturbingly, according to a 2016 report by Bridge Magazine, school choice policies are re-entrenching segregation in Michigan. This is a troubling consequence of school choice. Increasing segregation undercuts attempts to create opportunity for all. It is a step back for our state.
We must determine if school choice policies in Michigan deliver quality education outcomes for all children. I agree with Campanella that school policies matter because every child in America has potential. Now it is up to us to decide whether our state’s school choice system is nurturing all children’s potential.
Nate Walker is a former teacher who is now an organizer and policy analyst for AFT Michigan. He holds master’s degrees in teaching and urban education policy.