Reimagining Education

The definition of insanity

Albert Einstein said that to repeat the same action and expect a different outcome is the definition of insanity. The time for reform in education is now: we need to do things differently. Yes, different options are being tested around the country, and where success is found, information is shared and others attempt to duplicate the success. Though change can be scary, we necessarily cannot improve without change.

In OPINION SHAPER’s entry by Carl Peterson on 6.5.11, the question is asked, “Is public education dead?”

Mr. Peterson states that Missouri education legislation (since 2002) is “saddled with school choice”, the implication being that choice is a bad thing. As a parent, wouldn’t you think that a choice of educational options was a bad thing? [NOTE: I will not address his comment on vouchers in Missouri as they are unconstitutional in this state.] By now, we know that we all learn differently, which is to say that we do not all learn the same way. So, why do we still cling to an archaic system? The ‘One-size-fits-all traditional public school model?

His opinion is that it’s a bad development that children, who are now trapped in unaccredited school districts, can now cross a border into a neighboring accredited district and attain access to a proper education. Why is this bad? Who is it bad for? It is certainly NOT bad for the children. Should not children be the focus and barometer by which we guide our ship?

I appreciate Mr. Peterson’s concern that we need to improve the schools we have and support them. The argument that the children who do not cross the border, for whatever reason, are left behind and will suffer is worthy of consideration, however, those who avail themselves of an immediate solution will benefit IMMEDIATELY. This is GOOD.

He argues that charter schools are a false hope for at-risk children and that charters do not accept the hardest to teach and the most disruptive. Not true. Some specify exactly these demographics. In fact, the best charter schools in the country rank at the top level as the top traditional schools. Just because not all charters are up to the level they need to be does not mean that we should shut them all down. Instead, we need to hold them accountable to the same standards, as our Secretary of Education Arne Duncan has called for. He also calls for charters to specialize in serving the most under-served: those with learning disabilities and those who are at-risk and who cannot be educated in the traditional public school environment. These are the children Mr. Peterson expresses concern about, rightly so. So, we should learn from examples in other cities and states that have guided at-risk students to academic attainment, in spite of their home environment, their financial disparity, etc.

I challenge his allegation that the real problem is that the charter-school/voucher debate has distracted us all from solving the real problems in education. I would suggest quite the opposite. I suggest that the failure over the last 3 decades, while doubling what we spend, to improve public education brought about the search for alternatives. Among the options discussed, and tested, across the country are not only charter schools and vouchers (though vouchers are unconstitutional in MO), but performance pay, transparency, professional development, virtual learning/education, home-schooling, open enrollment, and of course teacher tenure, to name a few options we have to work with.

Mr. Peterson’s fear that now “…St. Charles County public schools must receive students from unaccredited districts from St. Louis County,” reflects the concerns of other area counties as well: that their schools will be absolutely overflowing with transfer students. This fear fails to take into account the fact that most parents, and their children, would prefer to remain in their own community. We see that in other states when borders were opened for enrollment, there was approximately a 5% transfer (Arkansas). If there are good schools in a neighborhood, the schools will fill their seats. In the meanwhile, let the neighboring schools fill to capacity.

There is no “agenda is to raid the public treasure chest to fund…private schools.” Does Mr. Peterson recognize that the private schools are able to appropriately educate children often for LESS than what we spend on public schools? The cost per child in SLPS is almost double that of its private school counterparts in the same area. The public could actually cut costs by placing children in those schools….but again, vouchers are not constitutional in the state of Missouri…

We would all be better off by embracing those changes that have been vetted and shown success rather than all of us collectively screaming: “Before vouchers and charter schools kill public education, you will have to climb over my bloody, broken body.” I would suggest that solution borders on insanity.

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