One of my biggest takeaways from Blakely’s article, “How School Choice Turns Education Into a Commodity”, is the importance of being informed of educational policies and the potential consequences they may bring. Prior to reading this article, I was not familiar with School Choice and found myself almost stunned as I read through the article. As I am just now getting started in the field of Education, I found this to be a rather eye-opening learning experience for myself. Our LC wanted to project the same type of experience to the rest of the class, which will be discussed further.
Throughout the article, Blakely provides an overview of the evolution of School Choice Program as well as presenting evidence supporting both sides of this controversial debate. Specifically, this program is designed to give parents and families more options in deciding the right education for their child. They have six educational platforms available: traditional public school, private school, charter school, magnet school, online academy, and homeschooling. School Choice strives to give families the power to select education programs that best suit their child’s educational needs. (National School Choice Week, 2021). On the contrary, Blakely explained School Choice as “allowing students to withdraw from the public system to use their share of state funding for private school, homeschooling, or online education” (2017). Both statements provided are true, however, there are many things left unknown about how School Choice is implemented, and Blakely’s writings explain just that.
Blakely first discusses School Choice as a component of the political movement of Neoliberalism. Blakely explained neoliberalism to, “view the creation of markets as necessary for existence of individual liberty… and in the neoliberal view, if your public institutions and spaces don’t resemble markets with a range of consumer options, then you aren’t really free” (2017). This introduces one of the main themes provided in the article. Should education be a public good or commodity? If education becomes a competitive market or a commodity, then not everyone will have an equal opportunity to receive a fair and equal education. Which in turn, may seem contradictory of the purpose behind education.
Another theme provided in the article was the funding of school choice and the consequences to follow. School Choice is funded through a voucher program in which families are provided funds, similar to a stipend, that are to be used to pay for tuition for their school of choice. However, families must qualify to receive these vouchers. Many times, if a public school is lacking resources, often times it will be defunded in order to support other educational institutions, such as private and charter schools. Blakely provided a specifical example of how defunding public schools has negatively impacted families: “…some zones of Detroit are now educational deserts where parents and children have to travel exorbitant miles and hours for their child to attend school” (2017). Furthermore, this may have a negative impact on low SES families that may not have the means to provide their children an education. If their public-school closes, there may be no public transportation to and from school. For instance, they may not have a car, and are simply left with minimal options. This makes some question how much of a choice these families are actually provided.
I personally believe that School Choice should be a public good. Blakely stated, “The first point to consider when weighing whether or not to marketize the public school system is that markets always have winners and losers.” I immediately asked myself, how is this upholding the main goal of education? If anything, it would take away from the purpose of education. Every individual deserves an equal opportunity for education and to be bought and sold on the competitive market would do the opposite of that.
Together, our LC thought it was important to emphasize all of the themes I explained previously, such as education as a public good versus a commodity and the consequences that this program may provide. Because this is more controversial, we wanted to create an interactive learning experience to facilitate meaningful conversation that allowed other class members to share their own experiences and opinions on School Choice. To guide our discussion, we created a presentation that outlined the options given by School Choice, the History of Neoliberalism, Education as a Public Good versus a Commodity, and the funding and defunding of schools. We also included small group interaction in which class members were split into breakout sessions and they were provided scenarios and a worksheet to take notes on. All of the activities we included resulted in great, meaningful conversation of School Choice. Our main objective was to provide our classmates the opportunity to get a better understanding of School Choice and the arguments that are in support and against this program.
When discussing the lesson planning itself, each member read the article prior to the meeting and brought any main takeaways to discuss. From there, we discussed the article and what we wanted the main goal of our lesson to be. We worked collectively throughout the planning and we each provided many ideas. Throughout the lesson, it was my responsibility to introduce a video that explained what school choice was and facilitated discussion after the video by asking some discussion questions. I asked them what they thought about the video, to share anything that stood out to them, and to explain if they agreed or disagreed with what the video provided. It was also my responsibility to introduce each scenario we elaborated and discussed along with explaining the worksheet. We worked very well together and were able to actively participate in class discussion. As mentioned previously, our main objective was to provide class members both sides of the argument to allow them to collect their own opinion. Overall, I was very proud of the work each group member provided and thought we conveyed our overall message of School Choice very well.
Here you can find a direct Link to our Presentation and Breakout Room Scenario Worksheet
Blakely, J. 2017, 17 April. How School Choice Turns Education into a Commodity. The Atlantic
“What Is School Choice?” National School Choice Week, 9 Feb. 2021, schoolchoiceweek.com/what-is-school-choice/.