Home > Uncategorized > Betsy DeVos Believes Charter Schools Are Like Food Trucks… and She May be Right!

Betsy DeVos Believes Charter Schools Are Like Food Trucks… and She May be Right!

October 1, 2017

Mother Jones writer Edwin Rios and bloggers Peter Greene each took Betsy DeVos to task for analogizing charter schools to food trucks in a speech she gave at Harvard University. Each blogger provided the context of Ms. DeVos’ remarks, which came from this analogy:

Near the Department of Education, there aren’t many restaurants. But you know what—food trucks started lining the streets to provide options. Some are better than others, and some are even local restaurants that have added food trucks to their businesses to better meet customer’s needs. Now, if you visit one of those food trucks instead of a restaurant, do you hate restaurants? Or are you trying to put grocery stores out of business? No. You are simply making the right choice for you based on your individual needs at that time. Just as in how you eat, education is not a binary choice. Being for equal access and opportunity—being for choice—is not being against anything.

Mr. Rios’ article chided the analogy as inapt and focussed on the protests that accompanied the speech and the funding sources, which included a sizable donation from the Koch Brothers. Mr. Greene used the analogy to hammer away at the conception of charter schools in general, in effect accepting the analogy and pointing out its deep flaws of using market dynamics to determine where children attend public schools. He writes:

Note that DeVos continues to drift further and further away from any interest in accountability for quality— in this analogy we pick the choice that tastes good, and if it happens to be unhealthy or toxic or laced with fried dog meat, none of that matters. Taste is not a bad guide for matters of food, but with schools, what “tastes good” today is not necessarily what will best serve the student, the family, the community and the nation over the coming decades. “Tastes good this moment” and “provides a solid education for a lifetime” are two entirely different metrics.

I think Ms. DeVos and those who trust the magic of the market are also implicitly trusting that everyone has the same kind of choices. The child in, say, the poorest sections of the Bronx has the same array of food trucks as the child in the most affluent sections of Manhattan or Brooklyn. But this clearly is not the case. There are neighborhoods that are full of grocery stores and restaurants (AND food trucks) of all kinds and varieties. But there are also neighborhoods where residents have no grocery stores whatsoever. The “free market” thinkers like Milton Friedman see no problem with this disparity. In their world view the only problem with the marketplace as it exists is that the grocery stores, bodegas, and restaurants are subject to government regulations.

And the array of choices isn’t limited to geography. Voucher advocates want to provide each family with a transportable bundle of cash they can use to acquire “education” the same way that they make any purchase. The ultimate end game of those who believe in the magic of the market would be to issue SNAP-like benefits to each and every child: a minimum level “grant” that could be supplemented by some but would serve as a floor for many children. In effect, this would limit the choices of many parents and children when they peruse the food trucks lined up in front of the USDE in the same way that choices for groceries are now limited for many receiving SNAP benefits.

Peter Greene concludes with this pointed critique of the business model that underlies charter schools:

The modern charter industry is a business model, and just like any other business model, it is built on serving some customers. Making sure that every student in America gets a good education is not the goal, the purpose or even the concern of the charter industry. But it has to be the concern of a public school system.

Schools are not businesses. Students are not customers. And education is not a side of fries.

That is… education is not a side of fries unless that’s all you can afford to pay for.


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