There is much controversy surrounding Betsy DeVos for Education Secretary. She is pro-education reform, but what does this really entail? She has advocated for charter schools and other private school options for students. Is this enough to fix all that is going wrong in public education? In my opinion, it is not. Private schools and even charter schools have been around for some time. While they have achieved some positive results, the net effects are still low.
For example, Betsy DeVos has helped implement many charter schools in Detroit. These schools outperform the nearby public schools, but Detroit still has some of the poorest performing schools in the entire nation. Is it enough to have only slightly better results?
Instead, we need true school choice. We don’t just need opportunities for students to study the same general academic subjects in a different school, but opportunities to study areas that are truly different. Apprenticeships are a great way to allow students to study different types of knowledge and skills, especially when they don’t plan to attend a university. It is well known fact within psychological research that people learn better in “context”. Nothing exemplifies the meaning of learning in context better than learning on the job.
Furthermore, the “problems” of education are pretty well known, but education reform efforts are not really addressing them. There is, of course, the drop-out problem. Will moving students from one school to another really going to prevent them from dropping out? Is a student’s experience at a new school going to be that much different that it will suddenly provide them with a love of learning and a desire to stay?
Another key problem, that is rarely addressed, is that students have to take a large amount of remedial coursework when they enroll in post-secondary education. This remedial work does not apply to their degree, but they still have to pay for it. Remedial work is the most common reason that students drop-out, leaving them with no degree but much debt. Is attending one school over another really going to instill that much more learning that students won’t need to take remedial coursework?
A final problem is cost. Education is simply too expensive. Public schools are constantly struggling for more funds, and there is a greater and greater need for post-secondary education which most people cannot afford.
All of these problems could be solved by giving students real choice in their final two years of high school. Apprenticeships are a great way to learn in context while also saving money in public education. Distance learning courses could also be provided in a potentially unlimited number of subjects. Students of like-minded interest and ability can be teamed up to view these courses and complete projects together. Along with community college courses and real projects in the community, the last two years of high school could have real choice. Remedial courses (or computerized learning of remedial coursework) could also be provided in the final two years of high school, so students will be completely ready for post-secondary education. Lets have true choice in education reform!
Chris Bernat is the author of Individualized Learning with Technology – Meeting the Needs of High School Students – a book about how learning can be individualized for older students, starting in high school and continuing throughout life. Visit her site at www.learnthroughlife.com.