In early February, Betsy DeVos was confirmed as the Secretary of Education, in a 51-50 vote. As a college student struggling with course workload, her confirmation frightens me. As a tutor to college students, her confirmation most definitely frightens me. And, with two sisters still studying in the American public education system, her confirmation frightens me. I am afraid that her goals do not include improvement of the public education system.
Let’s explore DeVos’s goals as the new Secretary of Education. DeVos essentially champions vouchers and private schools. According to NPR, it costs $10,615 to send one public school student to school for one year. However, vouchers will “[let] parents apply that money to a private or religious school, perhaps if they live in an area with bad public schools or want to give their child a specific kind of education.”
Sounds good, right? Allowing people who live in low-income areas to leave their bad public schools and go to private/charter schools seems ideal. However, according to Columbia University professor, Aaron Pallas, DeVos’s educational preferences for American children will lead to two possible scenarios, neither of which are progressive or helpful to American students. At the end of each scenario, money is pulled out of the regulated public schools and into non regulated private schools. As public schools get less money, teachers will get paid less, school resources will be cut off, and public school students will receive a lower standard of education.
All of this frightens me because public school funding has already been getting significantly cut over the years. Many art and music programs lost funding, for example. If Betsy DeVos is successful in getting parents to apply for vouchers ultimately siphoning money out of the public sector, public school students will not receive a quality education.
Public school education has already been struggling to get students prepared for college; in 2013, 66% of 16-24 year-olds were enrolled in college, but only 38% of them were prepared to read at the college level. The same National Assessment Governing Board report states that: “We’ve succeeded at motivating more young people to enroll, but we haven’t prepared more of them to succeed at it”.
I went to a public school, and I was lucky enough to go to one where there were many arts and physical education programs. We had dance, ceramics, and photography, to name a few classes, but not every school has these programs. The state of most public schools is determined by the area it is in, and low-income areas will typically have schools that do not have as many resources or programs as high-income areas. There needs to be a better allocation of funds for low-income schools, because as of now over 40% of low-income public schools don’t get their fair share of public funds.
If college students are struggling with college preparedness now, then what will happen to future college students who receive a less than sub par public school education, thanks to DeVos? Not being able to read at the college level is a huge problem, considering the fact that most college classes are based on readings. While I feel comfortable doing the required readings for all my college classes, I still struggle with some difficult texts from time to time. If this is my reality for every class (and this is a reality for over half of college students in America), how would college be manageable? Factor in work, for students who work full time, or sports, for student athletes, and it seems it will become impossible to succeed academically.
So, what does this mean for the next generation of college students? Perhaps, they will struggle. Perhaps, as secondary educational standards go up and elementary education quality goes down, fewer college freshmen will have the ability to even meet the standards set by colleges.
This is what I worry about.
Kareeda is a college student in the Bay Area. She is an espresso enthusiast and can be found at a cafe.