Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Does going private hurt our community?

The start of every school year sees the media filled with articles and editorials about the quality of American schools, teacher preparation and the latest in school redesigns.  This year is no different.  The first of the super-provocative articles I noticed this year had a title to grab all - If You Send Your Kid to Private School, You Are a Bad Person at Slate Magazine.  When I first saw the title I anticipated a humorous satire for no other reason than the use of the simplistic word, bad.  Any time a student of mine uses the word I circle it and write WC for “word choice.”  High school kids can find more advanced, expressive and eloquent vocabulary than that.  Then I read the article.  This really wasn’t satire.  And it wasn’t all that funny.  But it sure did make me think. 

It made me think about my love and appreciation of public schools.  They were created out of a commitment to our democracy.  A democracy depends on an educated populace.  A democracy depends on a collective commitment of all to each other.  Public schools are our greatest manifestation of our democracy – or they could be.  Sadly, we have allowed far too many public schools to sink.  Of course we can look at funding formulas and property taxes as one source of the problems, but we have too many examples of poorly funded schools in low-property value neighborhoods that do succeed.  What’s the difference?  I suggest one major determinant of a successful school is parent and community involvement.

What would happen if all the families that send their kids to private schools chose instead to send their kids to public schools?  Where would those families’ energies go?  Would those parents commit themselves to volunteering and funding the best programs available for their neighborhood schools?  Would they insist on best practices for all students?  Where would their $58 billion in tuition and fees go?  (in 2010 according to the National Center for Education Statistics there were over 5.1 million students in private schools at $8549 each and more than 2.2 million students in Catholic schools at $6018 each)  How might our public schools be transformed?  How might our communities be transformed?  How would our democracy be transformed?   

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