Tuesday, September 18, 2012
We'll never get there by running the other way
I need to come clean.
After several years of using my Facebook page, NJ Parents Against Gov Christie’s School Budget Cuts, to rail on a near-daily basis against public-education “reforminess” - a pet term that covers business-model education reform, privatization, high-stakes testing, etc. - two of my kids have just started at what can only be called an elite private high school after nine years of public school.
This wasn’t an easy decision, and its not my intention to get into a lengthy defense of that choice. Suffice it to say that I feel incredibly fortunate to be able to afford to make that choice, and I believe that public schools can and should become more like such private schools, instead of rushing in the opposite direction.
And that’s what I really want to talk about - the rush in the opposite direction.
I wish every public school parent in New Jersey - in America - could sit through the typical admissions presentation that prospective students and their families receive at top private schools. They would hear about the depth and richness of these schools’ offerings. They would hear that these schools seek to develop the whole person by emphasizing the arts and humanities alongside science, math and technology. About small class sizes that allow each student to receive individual attention. Advisors who work closely with every student, every day, to ensure his or her needs are being met. Libraries and computer labs available to facilitate homework and research. A faculty comprised of highly qualified teachers with advanced degrees in their subject areas. Emphasis on developing critical thinking skills. Development of writing and public speaking skills.
And over and over again, this selling point: NO STANDARDIZED TESTING.
So really, I have two points to make:
1. These are the kinds of schools to which most reformy politicians and edu-philanthropist-advocates send their own kids. Oh, and the president, too.
2. The educational practices and philosophies of most top private schools are the exact opposite of what most reformy politicians and edu-philanthropist-advocates are pushing for public schools: high-stakes standardized testing, larger class sizes, narrowed curriculum, de-emphasis of teacher experience and education, cutting back on arts and humanities, etc.
The experience of sitting through these presentations, and then reading scores of articles about the reforms being advocated by so many, Democrats and Republicans, reform advocates and billionaire philanthropists - by the likes of Michelle Rhee, Arne Duncan, Joel Klein, Scott Walker, Chris Christie, Chris Cerf, Jeb Bush, Michael Bloomberg, Rahm Emanuel, Bill Gates, Eli Broad, and on and on - leaves me with no doubt that the reformy crowd wants one thing for their own children and something less for other people’s children.
I’ve come to the extremely cynical conclusion that most reformies don’t actually believe their reforms are the best way to educate kids. They just believe their reforms are good enough for those who can’t afford better.
No doubt, many will say our nation cannot afford to provide every public school student with the kind of education available in elite private schools. I’m no school finance expert, so I’m not in a position to say what it would actually take - but I’m damn certain that we’ll never get there by running as fast as possible in the opposite direction.
But don't take my word for it. Rutgers professor Bruce Baker is a school finance expert who writes the blog School Finance 101 and knows a lot more about it. So read this:
Borrowing wise words from those truly market-based, Private Independent schools…
and this piece, which affected my own thinking deeply:
Private Choices, Public Policy & Other People’s Children