Tuesday, December 21, 2004

Tell me again, who is part of the problem?

Posted by Craig Westover | 2:18 PM |  

Flash, Centrisity, offers this take on the Maxfield controversy by asking the “right Wing Axis” to step up and be part of the solution and not part of the problem.
When a local columnist writes an article on literacy, and the local Right Wing Media machine chews it up, spits it out, and changes the whole intent into their own little focused message, it is nothing more the a perfect example of being part of the problem, not part of the solution.
The focused message, according to Flash. “is nothing more then the systemic disassembling of the public school system,” although to his credit he does pay a back-handed complement to “Captain Fishsticks” with a link --
There are no fewer then a half dozen members of the Right Wing Axis and their surrogates bashing away at this issue, and only one who is making any reasonable attempt to focus on the kids, albeit his goal is still the same as the rest.
If I were the local columnist in question, I might at this point impugn Flash’s reading comprehension, but that would be unfair. The distinction between “public education” as a concept and the delivery system for public education has been so confused -- benignly and maliciously -- that it is not as self-evident to grasp as it should be.

Here’s the point -- “public education” as a concept is what any reasonable person desires education to be -- education in the public interest, education that turns out independent citizens able to not just function but thrive, people who live vital and worthwhile lives. Government schools are just one delivery system for that type of education.

If by “disassembling of the public school system” Flash means ending the virtual government monopoly on “public education,” I plead guilty. What I want to see is a diversity of educational options open to all parents regardless of income level -- including government schools as we now know them, but supplemented by charter schools, private schools, religious schools, cyberschools, home schools and educational formats not yet imagined. I want children in failing schools of whatever type to have an immediate option to move to schools that offer them better opportunities and not have to wait for “education reform” and a new “five-year-plan.”

It’s been 50 years since Brown v. Board of Education and today we are discussing the “achievement gap” as a crisis. How many generations of kids have we sacrificed waiting for a single-provider education system to get it right? How many more?

Flash argues that such performance is not entirely the fault of the government monopoly view of “public schools.” He writes of us --
They talk about 'accountability' of the district and school staffs, but place no accountability on the parents. . . . I don't think we should give the districts and their employees a free pass, but I don't think we should give the parents one either.
Indeed, lack of parental involvement is part of the problem. So are poverty, racism, and physical and mental disabilities. But being part of the problem, such factors must be addressed, not used as excuses. If parental involvement is an insurmountable problem, then let’s stop throwing money at education. I'm a hard-hearted conservative; seems to me it makes more sense to fail cheaply than to spend a great deal of money to fail.

Fortunately, that’s not the choice.

Even in the worst environments, some schools -- government schools -- manage to succeed in educating even the most disadvantaged students. And that, Flash, is the point. In a “public education” system based on choice, all families, regardless of income level will have the opportunity to find schools and send their kids to schools that work -- government schools, charter schools, private schools, religious schools or whatever.

My question, which continues to go unanswered, is how is it ethical for the educational establishment to prevent low-income kids from moving out of a failing school and into a school that would provide them a better opportunity for a first-rate education? To steal Howard Fuller’s questions -- Is education about the system? Or is it about the parents and the kids?

By its silence on those questions, the education establishment has spoken. It, more so than its critics, is the problem.

Update: Flash Responds

“"My question, which continues to go unanswered, is how is it ethical for the educational establishment to prevent low-income kids from moving out of a failing school and into a school that would provide them a better opportunity for a first-rate education?""

First, the system allows for that. My understanding is that, through open enrollment, you can move your child.

I am waiting for someone to tell me why they believe it is best to destroy the current system, instead of effecting change from within. My kids are doing well in the SPPS environment. Don't I have as much right to see that environment remain.
Reasonable questions. First open enrollment allows me to move my child from one government school to another. If I am well-to-do, I can, of course, also move my child to a private or religious school. However, if I am a low-income parent, I am effectively denied the opportunity to remove my child from the government school system. In a true “public” education system, state money follows the child and a low-income family can use state funds to educate their child at any school.

Some might, but I am certainly not advocating destruction of individual government schools -- only removing the government’s monopoly power. Like anyone and everyone else, you should have the ability to select the school your child attends. You do not have the ethical right to demand that other parents must keep their kids in a system that doesn’t meet their needs strictly for your convenience.