The education reform movement loves to tout that parent’s right to choose is the “civil rights issue of our time.” They point to how charter and private schools, and the vouchers to fund them will allow disadvantaged children to leave the public schools they are at and move to better performing schools which will better serve them. This will eventually cause the bad public schools to close and raise the tide for all. There are several reasons why this line of reasoning just doesn’t meet the smell test.
First of all, choice doesn’t always equal opportunity. Not every parent can complete the complex applications sometimes required, or transport their children to the charter or private school, or put in the requisite number of volunteer hours sometimes required. Secondly, there is no evidence that charter schools on the whole perform better than public schools. In fact, despite the fact that charter schools are supposed to be open to all, they still often cherry pick their students, accepting less than their share of special education or English language learning students. Lastly, as I just mentioned, there just won’t be a wholesale departure from public education to charter and private schools. Arizona is a leader in the charter school movement and yet almost 90 percent of our school children still attend district schools. What will happen is the better students with more advantages, will potentially try other alternatives. Those that can’t take advantage of opportunity however, will remain and segregation, the highest now since 1964, will just continue to increase.
The real truth however, is that parents should not have to make a choice. Every public school in America should provide a quality education with a full curriculum including music, art and physical education. Unfortunately, now in the Oracle School District, we no longer offer music or art and because of our recently failed override continuation (by 98 votes), we’ll most likely be forced to cut physical education. And so the death spiral continues. Funding is cut, forcing schools to cut the program or take it “out of hide”. Of course, our education professionals work hard to find a way to still do it all. That in itself contributes to the death spiral because then the taxpayer can claim “see, you didn’t need that funding after all.” Cutting programs is just as bad, because it can cause students to leave the district for another that still provides the desired program. This then reduces the District’s budget and means they can provide even less. This is a formula for failure, not success.
In the meantime, we owe our all our children the opportunity to succeed, regardless of zip code or skin color. Our future as a nation depends on it because we never know from where our best and brightest will emerge. Charter schools have a place in our education system. There are needs they best serve. But…they were never intended to replace public community schools and in Arizona, they cost the taxpayers $1,000 more in state-provided funding per pupil than district schools.
America is a great nation. Public education for all contributed greatly to our success. The full-on assault currently being waged on public education threatens our success. Contrary to what the education reformists would have you believe, our public schools are performing well. Our graduation rate is higher than ever, our dropout rate is lower than ever, and our students’ performance on international tests is on par with just about any other nation when we factor out the affects of poverty. Poverty is the issue that threatens our education system, and our schools can’t solve this problem. It will take all of us working together to address it.