A large problem when it comes to efforts to reform public education is that—like so much of government activity these days—the people in charge of it are old and wealthy.
Because they are old, if they attended public schools in their childhood, they rely on nostalgic memories when making decisions about present public school needs.
If they were born to wealth, they attended exclusive private schools and have little idea of the needs of children who have grown up in different circumstances.
Because these people’s wealth derives from commerce, they bring a market-oriented mentality to the concept of public education.
The worst thing about the present entrepreneurial attitude fueling public school reform is that it loses sight entirely of what the public schools are for.
From the beginnings of historical time, education has been for those who can pay for it. Thanks to changes in thinking that began in the eighteenth century, most nations have adopted the concept of providing basic instruction for children whose parents cannot pay to educate them.
US public education began as elementary education. Children who hadn’t been taught to read at home were taught to read at school. When they could read, they went on to acquire a store of general knowledge that included such subjects as grammar, spelling, literature, arithmetic, history, geography, and civics. Some children went further than eighth grade, but for most, an eighth-grade education was sufficient preparation for occupations that require a level of basic literacy.
The addition of public high schools made it possible for interested students to advance to higher mathematics and to go deeper into other subjects. A high school diploma represented an advanced level of literacy.
One significant fact about US education before the reforms of the 1960s is that uninterested students, disruptive students, and other difficult-to-teach students did not stay in school.
Today’s educational landscape is entirely different.
Nowadays, the public schools cannot turn away the hard-to-teach. In addition to being places of academic instruction, public schools are expected to provide nutritious meals, medical services, and police supervision.
We do need to restructure public school management to accommodate new societal expectations and realities. But we need to do it within the existing public school framework.
The rush to create privately managed charter schools and to siphon tax money to private schools is not the answer.
Charter schools within the public school framework–managed by exceptionally qualified public school teachers–are an excellent idea.
Privately managed charter schools exempt from regulations intended to protect the rights and safety of students and teachers are a terrible idea.
Appropriating tax money to send children to private religious or secular schools is totally unacceptable. Private schools are for the children of people who can pay tuition.
A strong nation requires a strong public school system. At this time in US history, we need a system that serves the needs of households with incomes less than $100,000 a year.
That's most of us.