Don’t Condemn All Charter Schools When You Criticize Betsy DeVos

Donald Trump’s appointment for Secretary of Education, Betsy DeVos, has stirred up a national debate that has long been argued in cities across the nation: public charter schools versus traditional public schools. In stirring up this debate, many people have begun associating DeVos’s involvement in privatizing schools in Detroit to the role that public charter schools play across the nation. While it may seem easy to condemn all charter schools across the nation, it is important to understand that not every charter school is the same.

It is unfair and unfortunate of what has come out of the Detroit school system. Nevertheless, I believe that associating the situation in Detroit to that of every city will do a disservice to communities of color. In many cities, public schools fail students and are not the best option for families who want their children to succeed. My mother was one of those individuals who felt that the public school system was failing me and decided to look for alternatives for the education my brothers and I were receiving.

I transferred into the public charter school network in the 3rd grade. Immediately, I saw my intellectual curiosity quenched by the academic rigor of my school. I attended two UNO (UNO is a network of charter schools in Chicago) charter schools and graduated valedictorian of my 8th grade class from PFC Omar E. Torres Charter School. The years I spent in these schools pushed me to pave a path for myself which led me to attend a rigorous Chicago public high school, George Westinghouse College Prep, and ultimately led to me being at Stanford University today.

Furthermore, the most impactful thing that these charter schools had to offer was the community outreach. My mother, an undocumented immigrant whose dominant language is Spanish, had never felt included in the public schools that my brothers and I attended. However, I saw her involvement in our education evolve once we started to attend charter schools. She was so involved that she was one of the many mothers that participated in protesting funds for charter schools. Not only that, she knew the administration of my school and knew my teachers. The charter school network I attended made sure to incorporate parents through hosting events and having them be involved in their children’s educations, which I had not experienced in the regular public schools that I attended. Charter schools saved me and pushed me to strive beyond the standards that society put in place for me.

I would like to clarify that all public schools or charter schools are not the same. However, the purpose of this is to understand that in some cases charter schools are the alternative that families seek, an alternative that can be beneficial. To condemn all charter schools will only lead to divisiveness in our communities; many people in these communities have sought alternatives to traditional public school education and have found them in charter schools.

Condemning all charter schools and demanding for their closure is not the correct approach to this issue. I believe people should have a choice about educating their children. We must focus on the truth behind the educational system in many cities across the nation: it is a monopoly controlled by legislators, companies, and other influential individuals that want to profit off of it. No matter if schools are public or charter, the ones that are often times left out of the loop are those who have the most at stake than anyone else — those in some of our most vulnerable communities.

We who grow up in these lesser resourced neighborhoods want quality and accountability with our schools. However, how do you quantify growth and proficiency? You use standardized testing to quantify this. Isn’t this promoting schools to focus on teaching to a test and having schools focus on students who would do best at taking these tests in an effort to show that the school is doing a good job of educating our students? It could, but education, as a whole should probably steer away from standardized testing and focus more on having students gain skills that will benefit them in their future careers.  The point I am trying to make is that accountability is also an issue, hence, I strongly believe the education system is broken in a lot of places. The whole educational system has to be dismantled and built back up. But, in building it we must give room and power to those who know the best interests of their communities, parents and students. Nevertheless, I agree that these alternative schools should not operate at the expense of others and should be regulated to make sure that they adequately serve students and families, granted that standardized testing is not the sole emphasis of the curriculum.

What do you think?

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Guillermo Camarillo

Guillermo Camarillo

Guillermo Camarillo is a Chicago native currently studying at Stanford University -- class of 2020. His intended major is in engineering, but he is still not sure what specific type of engineering he wants to study. He was born and raised in Chicago’s West-side neighborhood, La Villita. Guillermo identifies as a first-gen, Latino, and low-income student. His true passions are in STEM, advocacy for oppressed groups, equity in education, mentorship, and helping others. Being the son of two undocumented immigrants, Guillermo is seeking to find ways to not only be their voice, but the voice of other individuals that are voiceless. He gained global recognition because of his “Dear Dentist” letter that addressed the common theme of individuals trying to discredit the accomplishments of minority, low-income, first-gen students. He hopes to continue to tell the other side of the narrative.

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