While Betsy DeVos certainly lacks the kind of resume I would hope an Education Secretary would posses; she does support school choice. As a special education teacher at a public charter school, this is of utmost importance to me and the children I serve.
Too often "school choice" has become a phrase that lawmakers and others throw around with a sense of negativity, while forgetting the communities it empowers. This phrase has come to mean what its detractors believe of it: "privatization" and defunding of public education. It has become about lawmakers claiming to know what’s best, all while shutting out the voices of hundreds of thousands of parents and children who have chosen alternative forms of education, primarily due to poor local options.
School choice is about providing options to every child and every family, regardless of income, zip code, or immigration status. In New York City, over 100,000 children attend charter schools every day. In Harlem, 1 out of 2 kindergarteners attend a charter. This year, 68,000 parents applied for less than 24,000 charter school seats, leaving 44,000 children on a waiting list in New York City alone. It’s very clear what parents want, and to deny them this choice is wrong.
The problem with being outraged at school choice is that it disproportionately targets working class families in cities across the country. Wealthy families have options. The richest families in New York City have long ago taken their children out of district schools, yet no one seems to question their choice. Where is the outrage at the Upper East Side moms choosing to send their children to $30,000 per year elementary schools? Why are we outraged that poor families demand the same educational excellence for their children as the millionaires on the Upper East Side? All families deserve options, regardless of their race, or zip code, or legal status.
Does public education need to change? Of course. But in the meantime, our kids don’t have time to wait. If we truly value a child’s future; we value their education. Six year olds cannot wait for us to fix this mess. They need to learn to read now. They need to learn how to dance and add and write now. How dare we tell the children in the poorest areas of our city that they need to wait in failing schools while we attempt to fix a system that’s been failing their neighborhoods for decades. We would never say that to a kid living in Tribeca, or a kid on the Upper West Side, so why are we happy to say it to the children of the Bronx? Kids don't have time to wait around for the adults to get it right. School choice gives kids the options they need in the time they need it. All children deserve immediate access to an education that empowers and equips them to be the people they were made to be.
The educational crisis in our country is desperate and urgent. I can only hope that Devos who has stated, "the status quo is not acceptable" chooses to remember our most vulnerable kids and families in her endeavor to make us "the best in the world."
DeVos has served as a long time advocate of school choice, and chaired boards that seek to fight for the same kids I teach every day. This makes me want to give her the benefit of the doubt in all of this. Qualifications mean nothing to me if they don’t equate to action on the part of our kids. Real action brings change, and the best kind of change is immediate. I hope that DeVos chooses to recognize the true bearers of reform in all communities, be they district, charter, parochial, or private and use them as models of what’s possible.
DeVos has four years to prove that she's out to help our kids and provide them with the options they deserve, now.
I’ve had the privilege of teaching for more than five years in New York City. It is exciting and meaningful, beautiful and hard. I’ve spent all of these years in the same elementary school in the Bronx, and I’ve learned much in my time surrounded by the dreamers, leaders, dancers, writers, mathematicians and actors that are being raised within our halls.