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Letter: Putting students ahead of schools dismisses idea their fates are linked

In defending Education Secretary Betsy DeVos, a recent letter writer informs us he has read a book concluding that focusing on what is good for public schools is detrimental to students and dangerously akin to fascism. I would like to suggest some further readings for this writer to help him broaden his perspective.

First of all, I would recommend a basic text on logical fallacies. Placing the good of the school against the good of the student is a textbook example of a false dichotomy, creating an opposition between two things that are fundamentally interlinked. It is not possible to do what is best for students in schools that are underfunded and allowed to deteriorate. The idea that properly supporting public schools is unrelated to the good of the students in them is simply foolish.

I might also recommend that the writer include in his reading list some research on the achievement record of public schools versus that of charter and private schools. Charter schools, which are just a type of public schools, have some advantages, but across the country and on the average they perform neither better nor worse than regular public schools.

For-profit elementary and secondary schools of the kind favored by DeVos are quite different, however. Over the past four decades research has shown such schools have a dismal record of living up to their promises to raise achievement, and often do considerably worse than public schools. It is not a coincidence that DeVos recently repealed a rule that forgives loans for students who have been defrauded by for-profit colleges. Such a move calls her motives into serious question when it comes to for-profit elementary and secondary schools.

In the end, however, I think that a person who teaches at a private school and home-schools his own children really does not have the experience to criticize the performance of public schools. Unlike most private schools, public schools admit every student regardless of ability to pay, socioeconomic status, physical or mental challenges, language spoken, and cultural or religious background. They make a commitment to take in every student who shows up and do their best to improve that student’s life. When private and for-profit schools take on that mission, and submit to the full accountability system under which public schools operate, we can begin to discuss which type of school is best for students.

Bryan P. Sorohan

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