I’m fortunate to have a very unique lens when it comes to education. As a student, I spent all but 2 ½ years of my K-12 education in private schools. In my first decade as an educator, I spent all of my years in Title I schools or supporting teachers who instructed students with special needs. So when it comes to the debate of public, private or charter, my answer is always “it depends”. Public education has unfairly been given a bad rap. Now, this is partially it’s own doing because the United States public education system is suffering from the Walmart Effect.
The first public high school was established in Boston, Massachusetts in 1821. The first Walmart was opened in Rogers, Arkansas in 1942. Just like when the first Walmart opened, no one could have predicted that the public school system would have evolved to be what it is today. Walmart and public education are the two most American institutions I can think of. Both provide a service to all Americans, one constitutionally and the other through the ideology of capitalism. Ironically, the poor in our country depend on the public school systems and Walmart. In many cases, public schools and Walmart in poor communities are their only options.
Just like our public schools, more affluent families are avoiding Walmart and taking their business to Target. I have to admit, I’m a Target person too. I’d rather pay the small premium for the convenience of the “Target Experience”. The problem with Target is that all Targets are not created equal. You have Target and you have Super Target just like you have private schools and elite private schools. The biggest misconception about private schools is that just because you’re paying for it, that automatically makes it better and this is simply not true. There’s a certain level of pride and prestige people feel when they send their kids to a private school, but that also makes them reluctant to be honest publicly about not being pleased with their experience.
Then there’s Amazon. As a proud Prime member, I can honestly say Amazon has provided the happy medium between Walmart and Target. And the best part about Amazon is that it levels the playing field for the little guy, a lot like charter schools do. I’m definitely not one of those people who is against charter schools. Just like public and private schools, they have a place in our overall education system. In fact, what I like most about charter schools is that they provide another option which creates competition. The overall education system benefits from competition because a lack of competition creates complacency. And that takes us back to the impact of The Walmart Effect on our public school system.
Without a doubt, Walmart has been the most successful retail company in the United States for over half a century. Just like our public education system, Walmart took out most mom and pop shops, the original private schools, by creating a systematic approach to retail. It was your one-stop retail shop where you could get your groceries, new underwear and oil changed. Another great thing about Walmart is that it systemized the retail process beyond borders. No matter what city, town or state you go to, you would just have to find a Walmart and you knew you can find just about everything you need. This is very much like our public system.
Most of my life, Walmart has been the undisputable king of retail. I honestly never thought that any retail company would ever be able to even come close to competing with Walmart, let alone dethrone them from their position as the king of retail. But then, an online bookstore called Amazon entered the picture in 1995. I seriously doubt that anyone predicted this online bookstore from the mid-90s would be the reason why Walmarts are now closing their doors around the country. The simple explanation is that Amazon continues to evolve to meet the ever-changing needs of 21st Century consumers and Walmart has failed to evolve at the necessary rate to compete. Unfortunately, our public school system is falling into the same trap as Walmart because it’s not evolving at the necessary pace to meet the diverse needs of 21st-century students.
Our public school system cannot succumb to The Walmart Effect. When a Walmart closes, it has a rippling effect. First, the people who worked at that Walmart have to find new jobs. Second and most importantly, the people who depended on that Walmart for their needs have to find a new Walmart or another retail store. And most likely, the reason they were shopping at that particular Walmart was because of proximity. The closing of Walmart and public schools hurts the people who depend on them the most, the poor.
Written by Kelvin Oliver
Educational Consultant at Leaving The Village LLC