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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat


Column: Betsy Devos and questions of qualifications

Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call/Newsco
Betsy DeVos, nominee for education secretary, poses for a photo before a meeting with Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., in the Capitol, Dec. 1, 2016 in Washington, D.C. (Tom Williams/Congressional Quarterly/Newscom/Zuma Press/TNS)

The public school system is as deeply woven into our country as the constitution itself. It’s an irreplaceable institution of our country. 

President Donald Trump’s choice for Secretary of Education, Betsy DeVos, has made no promise to work to fix our flawed system, nor has she confirmed that she won’t throw out the system entirely. DeVos spoke with the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions and articulated that there are other options for parents to choose when deciding how to educate their children. The education system has started to stray from a one size fits all model.

DeVos voiced her support for a system that would allow parents to choose the school, which they feel best fits their child.

The catch, DeVos wants to funnel government money spent on public education to parents who select the alternative option. 

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Not only would this be spending government money on private institutions, it also would cut the already low funding public education receives. There is a deepening sense of elitism in our education system as the new Secretary of Education suggests parents choose schools outside of the public school system. 

It seems our country’s new secretary of education doesn’t believe in the public school system.

It’s true the public school system has its flaws, many of which come from a lack of funding. However, it’s a matter we can solve by effecting positive change. We can’t throw the system out all together. The public school system has changed with the country itself, but at its core, it has remained a system with a central goal of educating all children.  

Without the public school system, there are many children who wouldn’t be educated simply because their parents can’t afford to send them to an alternative institution. The reason there is such a significant amount of tax dollars and government spending go into education, is to make certain every child has the opportunity to receive a K-12 education. 

As a product of the public school system, I can attest that it has flaws. 

The system is built for a median student, leaving outliers either bored with slow paced classes or struggling to keep up. The goal of the public school system is for every student to pass and accordingly, the bar is set low. 

Parents take their business elsewhere because they want their children to meet higher standards and beat mediocrity.

Public schools are challenged by their lack of funding and the effects appear in the students.  I witnessed teachers who had to find ways to teach the same material in shorter amounts of time. Sometimes only one grade level in the school would get new textbooks, in subjects where updated textbooks are extremely important. Students were charged for mistreatment of books that were falling apart. We didn’t have the necessary supplies to complete class activities and teachers relied heavily on donations from parents to keep their classroom running. Art, music and physical education had to deal with major cuts, making it difficult for students interested in those subjects to fully enjoy them.

It sounds great as a kid to have three days cut off the school year, but as an adult looking back at it I’ve come to the realization that my education suffered because our public schools are suffering. 

DeVos’ motivation as Secretary of Education should be to make the education system stronger. To make it so it works for everyone and parents won’t be tempted to pull their kids for a so-called better school. 

She has the opportunity to make serious changes to the system and they don’t have to be bad changes. Frankly at the moment, the odds aren’t looking to good. 

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The public school system was designed to give all children the opportunity to learn in an equal environment. While the system might not meet the needs of every child, it should at least be able to meet the needs of most. Education shouldn’t be a conversation about what kind of education a parent can afford for their child. 

If Betsy thinks private schools offer a better choice than public schools she should be working to close the gap in those differences, figure out the qualities parents are looking to alternate schools for and find ways to bring those qualities into the public school system. 

The excuse that children are being pulled from public schools because they aren’t meeting a child’s needs should no longer exist. Our Secretary of Education nominee should really think carefully about her next steps. 

Follow Leah Gilchrist on Twitter

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