Leave Public Schools Alone

Leave Public Schools Alone

Everybody likes to bash public school. But why?

Some dead horses need a good beating.

With the confirmation of Betsy Devos, we can tell what direction things going to go from here. In a nutshell, the Federal Department of Education is going to be gutted, and we’ll see public money and control shift to private entities with little to no public oversight.

There are problems with this.

First off, I’m all for school choice. As a teacher, I’ve seen firsthand the benefit of students having options. I’ve worked in a number of charter schools, and each one provides a unique set of opportunities that don’t always exist in public school. Furthermore, when you have a singular control system dictating what gets taught, the propensity for brainwashing is immense.

With government monopoly, you have parents struggling in the system being treated like numbers rather than people, you have situations such as history being taught from a flagrantly white-supremacist perspective, or de facto ‘separate-but-equal’ school segregation, and all manner of situations where teachers are just not teaching. I remember interviewing for a position as a math coach at an elementary school, where I was told the teachers like to reserve their math instructions for the last twenty minutes of the day, and the previous lesson always seems to run over – by twenty minutes. A lot of elementary teachers can’t DO math, let alone teach it.

There are lots of problems in the public schools.

Many parents turn to homeschooling, which is great for some. I can honestly tell you that that without exception, every time I’ve had a former homeschool kid in my classroom, they’ve been way above their peers both in academics and in maturity. States need to do a better job supporting homeschooling, but instead, they often take measures to discourage it. The state of Florida, just one example, outlaws co-ops. That’s basically where someone else, usually another homeschooling parent, teaches your child, perhaps on Mondays and Wednesdays while you take theirs on Tuesdays and Thursdays, or perhaps you teach one set of subjects while the other parent teaches another set. Yes, that’s actually illegal in Florida.

So again, I’m all for school choice; I think we do need to provide more, better options for our children.

But what the Betsy Devos’s of the world fail to realize is the exact same thing the common-core (aka flavor-of-the-week) pushers failed to realize: that not every child is the same. Not every situation is the same, and not every neighborhood is the same. Some homeschool advocates seem to think we should abolish the Department of Education, and let every child be homeschooled. Get rid of the public schools and let the free market figure it out.

But the problem with the free market is that it works great except when it doesn’t.

Let’s begin with the question of why we have government-mandated school attendance (aka, truancy laws) in the first place.

Any time you have a democratically elected government, you need a well-educated populace, elsewise you’ll have a whole lot of people making very stupid decisions together. In this sense, the survival of the Republic is directly tied to how well we teach our children to think critically and analytically, and to take the responsibility of government of the people, by the people with all the serious respect it warrants. Without a strong, academic culture, our nation could very quickly descend into tyranny – we could end up with a presidential con-artist, while the real power lies with some shadowy, military-industrial complex. We need school choice to ensure such a complex, if it ever came to power, would not hold a monopoly over the kind of things that get taught to our children.

But we also need public schools to guarantee that ALL our children have equal access to quality education. If we leave everything up to the free market of private schools, charters, and homeschooling, countless millions would get left behind. For one, most people can’t afford private school. This was a major problem back in the days before public schools, and was a major driving force behind why we have public schools in the first place. Not every parent has the luxury of homeschooling; it truly is a massive time commitment, and places a huge burden on financial resources as well. Beyond this, not every child can handle the normally isolated learning environment (while others thrive in it).

This brings us to charter schools. This is basically a privately run school using public money. With public money comes public accountability, but even that varies from state to state, and is often abused. Sometimes a charter school will be a non-profit entity – that outsources everything to a for-profit “management company.” It’s not hard to see where that always end up. Schools have closed midway through the school year, or been evicted for nonpayment of rent while the operators walk away with the cash. Remember, Betsy Devos often speaks of deregulating school charters. In every district where her lobbying has gained influence, student achievement has plummeted. But beyond this, charters only exist where there’s a viable business model, and not every child is a profitable venture. There are areas where it isn’t feasible to run a charter, yet these areas are still served by the public schools.

The sad truth is that public schools get a bad rap. They’re a favorite punching bag for a lot of politicians and reform-minded individuals. But when you look at what public schools provide in terms of opportunities for students, special education support services, free breakfast and lunch for millions of kids, for many of whom that’s the only time they get to eat, not to mention (usually) the best-paid teachers and the most resources, you would see a different story. I can say from my own experience as a teacher (experience Betsy Devos does NOT have) who’s worked in both public and charter schools, that the anti-public-school hype is just that: hype.

School choice is all about giving the parents freedom to find the best learning environment for their child. You can’t do that by taking one of the best choices, public schools, off the table.


Michael Patrick Lewis is a teacher, and bestselling author of Edge Of God, and Preferred Rewards. You can also find him on Twitter @fakeMikeLewis.

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