In a recent article from Education Next, Robin Lake, Ashley Jochim, and Michael DeArmond, all researchers from the Center on Reinventing Public Education, take an in-depth look at Detroit’s failing school system and the challenges facing school choice. In a blog post from Education Week, staff writer and reporter Arianna Prothero investigates one such challenge, exploring how the propagation of charters does not guarantee equal access to such schools.
The language used in any debate is important and helps identify biases within sources. Proponents of charter schools use the language “school choice,” while critics avoid the positive connotation of “choice” and instead refer to the movement as “privatization,” highlighting perceived negative effects of capitalism within public school systems. Lake, Jochim, and DeArmond, remaining relatively neutral, contextualize this nationwide debate in the city of Detroit, lamenting that the plethora of school options for parents and students does not necessitate good available options for everyone (2015, p. 22). Prothero’s article appears more biased, using the language of choice and highlighting ways to improve the system, not overhaul it (2017). Unarguably, Detroit schools are struggling, with just 16 percent of public schools (charter and district) receiving scores of C+ or better from the Excellent Schools Detroit coalition in 2014, far behind similar cities (Lake, Jochim, & DeArmond, 2015, p. 23). Although close to half of the charters outperform traditional schools, given the “very low bar” set by the district, this is not very impressive (Lake, Jochim, & DeArmond, 2015, p. 23).
Problems and Challenges for Parents:
In a competitive market-based approach to education, the responsibility for insuring the quality of a child’s education falls upon the parent – “they’re on their own” (Lake, Jochim, & DeArmond, 2015, p. 22). Parents in Detroit struggle to navigate the complexities of the system, and thus are
barred from accessing full potential benefits. This disproportionately affects low-income, low-education parents. Parents with the least education are “much less likely than parents with college degrees to say their child is in a school that was their first or second choice” (Lake, Jochim, & DeArmond, 2015, p. 24). Some problems these parents face:
- “Finding good information and easy ways to compare options,” (Prothero, 2017) which includes knowing if their child is eligible for different schools (Lake, Jochim, & DeArmond, 2015, p. 23). This is especially difficult for parents with limited literacy skills who are themselves the result of a failing education system.
- Disadvantaged families cannot pay for special services that help wealthier families get the most out of the choice system (Prothero, 2017). Resultantly, charters do not act as societal equalizers and instead perpetuate inequality.
- Many “options” for schools are not accessible because of issues with transportation, safety concerns, and lack of special education resources (Prothero, 2017; Lake, Jochim, & DeArmond, 2015, p. 23).
- Prothero argues for the importance of building “support organizations [and] getting neighborhood input” before building new charters or making drastic changes to existing schools (2017), which Lake, Jochim, & DeArmond sum up simply as “grassroots change” (2015, p. 26).
- Lake, Jochim, & DeArmond argue that the problem is a “lack of incentives for improvement,” so Detroit must invest in building a “strong core of quality charters,” recruiting talented school leaders and teachers, and getting city leaders on board (2015, p. 26).
- Prothero describes resources like guidebooks and online registration systems that exist in other American cities to help with the information gap. She sees the “potential value of pairing choice policies with easily accessible data on school quality,” as a way to incentivize parents to become more informed (2017).
Lake, R. J., Jochim, A., & DeArmond, M. (2015). “Fixing Detroit’s Broken School System.” Education Next, 15(1). Retrieved from http://educationnext.org/
Prothero, A. (2017). “School Choice Creates Challenges for Parents: What Are Cities Doing to Help?” Retrieved from http://blogs.edweek.org