It’s an interesting question: is the institution the same thing as the service it provides? Do hospitals equal health? Are farms the same as food? Or are “cars” the same as “transportation”? Each are connected obviously, but the method and outcome are not the same thing.

In fact, you could achieve an end through different means.

Unfortunately, some politicians have confused “education” with “schools” and accuse those who want reform to be anti-education. That’s like saying cars are the only way get from point A to B.

For example, Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer predicted that if Betsy DeVos, nominee for US Education Secretary, were confirmed, she would “single-handedly decimate our public education system.” While her credentials for the job are open to debate, his statement does not reflect the state of education in America.

For starters, the US Department of Education contributes less than 10 percent of school funding. Most education funding comes from state and local governments and private funding through tuition and philanthropy. While the Secretary of Education has a small amount of discretionary funding for pilot projects and grants, the vast majority of funding is dispensed according to formulas created by Congress.

The executive branch administers the law; it doesn’t write it. Even if a secretary wanted to destroy public education, he or she would be disappointed by the lack of opportunity.

Second, the US system of education is roughly 160 years old and has changed over time. It is not an institution set in stone. In the 1950s, many American students were assigned to a large comprehensive public school according to where they lived. Since the 1990s, public schooling has evolved to center around smaller, more specialized environments, public-private partnerships, and parental choice.

Today, six percent of students attend public charter schools. Legal in 42 states, these public schools have some measure of autonomy from the school district in terms of curricula and teaching methods. They are schools of choice meaning that parents and students choose to enroll rather than attend a school designated by the district. A smaller percent of students attend online public schools and public magnet schools.

Ten percent of US students attend private schools. Half of the states have adopted voucher programs or tax credits/deductions for education to offset costs to parents who choose these schools. Finally, about three percent of students are homeschooled.

Obviously there are many types of schools providing education. Some schools are better at providing education than others. There are great, mediocre, and poor performing traditional public schools, public charter schools, private schools, and home schools. Even great schools are not great for every student who attends, so we need diversity and choice.

School choice means that every child has the opportunity to attend a school that meets his or her needs.

What are your thoughts?

Can we only get education through the public school system, or is learning a lifelong endeavor that parents and children must both embrace?

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