As president-elect Donald Trump continues to unveil plans for his presidency, many Americans brace themselves for dramatic changes to the educational system. Trump has not held back his criticism of the Department of Education, and instituting the school choice program appears to be high on his list of things to do.
From the beginning of his campaign, Trump has voiced his support for educational reform, suggesting that “failing government schools” have created a trap for underprivileged youths. While it may seem that every new administration brings with them amendments to the educational system, the nationwide implementation of school choice would require a significant overhaul of the nation’s education landscape. The impacts, both positive and negative, are expected to be dramatic.
In theory, school choice offers parents of all socioeconomic statuses the same opportunity to provide their children with the best possible education. This is a step toward educational equality, but it may not be as clear-cut as it seems. Proponents of school choice suggest that this program gives parents complete control over their children’s education and the ability to choose where their educational tax dollars are spent.
However, the program achieves this by taking the tax dollars that have traditionally gone to the public school system and giving them back to the parents. This implies that a significant portion of public school funding will be excised, likely going to school’s in more desirable neighborhoods instead. These changes could severely damage the inner city school system, leaving those who must live and attend school there with no options at all.
Ideally, by giving parents a choice in schools, the school choice programs will create competition among institutions as they vie for the interests of students, incentivizing those institutions and their teachers to provide better instruction and improved programs to attract students and revenues. The institutions that cater best to the needs of the parents and their children will succeed, whereas those institutions that fail to attract students would simply forgo funding and eventually cease to exist.
The detractors of school choice argue that public institutions in undesirable neighborhoods will not have the resources to compete. The associated fears are that school choice will ultimately lead to the depletion of schools in already-disadvantaged neighborhoods. While some students will undoubtedly benefit from the ability to choose and move schools, others will be left behind in the schools with significantly reduced funding.
While the debate of how school choice will impact the American school system, the movement is becoming a reality. Back in September of 2016, Trump voiced his support school choice and promised that he would move to implement it immediately should he be elected. His proposed budget calls for using $20 billion in federal funds, along with $110 billion of collective state funding, to encourage all 50 states to implement school choice. When Trump named Betsy DeVost, a vocal advocate of the educational reform, as his choice for education secretary, the plan for implementing school choice seemed all but cemented.
Consequently, as educators in the United States prepare for school choice, many expect that the Common Core State Standards initiative (CCSS) might be on the way out. Trump has been critical of the Common Core standardized testing in schools, saying that “education has to be run locally.” Moreover, Common Core and the concept of a standardized education is exactly what school choice fights against. Proponents of school choice suggest that the program will provide parents with a diverse array of educational options for their child’s individual needs, discourse that seems to fly in the face of standardized tests. At this point, it seems very unlikely that the two programs, school choice and Common Core, can coexist.
Despite all the positive discussion surrounding school choice regarding freedom, opportunity, and equality, there is a vocal group rallying against school choice, warning that the program might be hiding some negative implications. While school choice advocates suggest that this movement will encourage public institutions to improve the way they do business, public schools in undesirable neighborhoods are lamenting that they do not have the resources to compete.
Additionally, parents in low-income neighborhoods might not have the necessary time or resources to properly investigate what schools are best for their children. Similarly, transportation and extracurricular costs associated with the more desirable schools might exclude students from families in low-income households, which would lead to greater segregation, not the other way around.
Many school choice detractors have spoken up against the ensuing privatization of education, arguing that the movement opens education up to profiteers who not only lack the education and experience to run a school, but allows them to easily exploit an under-regulated environment to maximize their personal profits.
As discussed, one of the major potential drawbacks of school choice is that economic and logistical factors might limit the amount of choice some families have. Rather than negate racial and economic segregation in American schools, school choice could, in fact, make it worse. Overcoming some, if not all, of these limitations, however, might be available in the form of educational technology and distance education.
As online programs and eLearning become more readily available, students that are unable to attend the school of their choice because of distance–hindered by the commute or the financial implications of the travel–could find options online. Ideally, this would allow students that would otherwise be forced to study at an undesirable public school nearby to study at any school, regardless of the location. Though this would require a major overhaul of the online educational environment in the U.S., as well as a thorough investigation into the additional costs incurred by each online student, distance education takes steps toward answering some of the primary concerns from critics of school choice.