This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2016, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.
Now is the time to contact your members of Congress to proclaim unequivocally that the hope for the future of our children is directly connected to support for public education. President-elect Donald Trump's nomination of Betsy DeVos as the next secretary of education delivers a severe blow to the future of public education. While her statements indicate a desire to provide all parents the opportunity to choose the best schools for their children, a deeper look into her promotion of unregulated, for-profit charters and vouchers indicates a very different agenda.
From the Reagan administration through the Obama administration, a market-based agenda has spread an often-inaccurate narrative leading Americans to believe that our public schools, teachers and students are failing miserably. This story was used to steamroll the country with privatization mandates while shifting billions of tax dollars to those who manufactured the narrative.
A November 2016 Stanford Research and Policy Brief, "Privatization or Public Investment?" demonstrates that students, families and communities are better served by a public investment approach that supports every child than by a market-based approach in which some win and some lose. When education becomes a market-based commodity, we risk placing children's learning in competitive "survival of the fittest" contexts.
The most widely-recognized mechanism of the market-based agenda is the reduction of student, teacher, school, district, state and country performance to a single and quite profitable measure: high stakes test scores. These scores, as research has repeatedly shown, often lack the validity and reliability upon which to make high stakes judgments. Yet these scores became the vehicle used to demean educators and students, to promote publishing and technology profits, to narrow curricula and to replace "failing" public schools with community-disrupting alternatives, some less than savory.
Meanwhile, market-based leaders ignored sound research identifying poverty and overcrowded classrooms as primary variables compromising educational opportunities.
With schools besieged by test-driven curriculum mandates, parents who would otherwise select neighborhood public schools are increasingly driven to look elsewhere. Over the past two decades, the DeVos family has aggressively funded and advocated for school alternatives that support privatization: the funneling of public sector funds into the private sector.
DeVos has promoted legislation that explicitly calls for unregulated charters and for vouchers that allow public tax dollars to fund private and parochial schools. Under DeVos' leadership, we risk a return to the segregated and exclusionary practices from decades past.
Privatization trends demonstrate a divestment from our public education system. Yet, it is our shared investment in public education that propels the hope of a humane, civilized and productive society. Public education promotes the powerful possibility of equality and progress as children from all backgrounds learn to work across differences to succeed in contemporary America. To achieve these goals, we need a secretary of education who is dedicated to an inclusive model of rigorous education rather than a model that promotes segregation, sectarianism, exclusivity and elitism. Only public schools welcome and support, by law, every child. The DeVos model of education threatens the very essence of public education for the common good, which it is sanctioned to protect.
The heroic work of teachers deserves education leaders who respect the professional autonomy of teachers. Instead, we have a culturally accepted story, manufactured by the privatization agenda, that de-professionalizes teachers and blames them for the failed policies that were foisted upon them through government-sanctioned, privatization mandates.
The hope of realizing public education's vision of a diverse society living peacefully and productively depends on the support of each one of us. DeVos' push for school choice is deceptive and perilous; it would dismantle public education. Now is not the time to sit back and let our students and their learning become market-based commodities. Contact your members of Congress today to let them know of the dangers of this agenda.
Melanie Agnew is dean of the Westminster College School of Education. Kristi Jones and Marilee Coles-Ritchie are professors. Jamie Joanou is an assistant professor. Joyce Sibbett and Janet Dynak are professors emeritus. Shamby Polychronis is an associate professor.