Tuesday, December 02, 2008

Fixing Public Schools

Mr. Neal, a former OEA Marshall Gregory Award Winner and one of my favorite writers, has a better understanding about schools than a variety of people in all walks of life. Legislators would do well to read and pay heed to what he has to say.

State Question 744, sponsored by the HOPE Coalition, will provide our schools the revenue they need to be succesful.

Fixing public schools starts with funding by: KEN NEAL Senior Editor Tulsa World

Will vouchers or charter schools or both solve the problems of the public school system?

That question has bedeviled school observers for at least 20 years. The best answer after some limited experience with vouchers and charters is that they can be a part — but only a part — of the educational picture.

In the 30 years since Bill Bennett and the Reagan administration hammered the schools in the politically motivated and largely inaccurate "A Nation at Risk," bashing the public schools is increasingly a great sport.

Republicans generally lead that exercise, although Democrats often join them in blaming school boards and administrators for perceived failures of their children.

Even Mark Twain took a potshot at school boards. He once said, "God made the idiot for practice. Then he made the school board."

Yet the overwhelming evidence is that public school problems spring from the public's inability to deal with societal problems, specifically poverty.

Cal Thomas, whose syndicated column is carried in the Tulsa World, climbed on the school criticism bandwagon recently by chiding President-elect Barack Obama and his wife for selecting a private school for their two daughters when they move to Washington.

Never mind that putting the kids in a public school would drive the Secret Service nuts and cost the public thousands of extra tax dollars.

No, old thoughtful Cal claims "Obama and the Democrats" deny parents who can't pay for private schools the right to send their children to them.

Thomas sees nothing wrong with giving parents tax money to use to send their children to private schools.

Usually, this approach is but a way to help finance religiously affiliated schools. That would in effect allow government to support religion, generally considered to be unconstitutional.

That practice is what "Obama and the Democrats" oppose.

Private schools play an important role in the U.S.

About 11 percent of students are in non-public schools. While it makes a great column for Thomas to poke fun at the Obamas, the insinuation that private schools are an answer to the nation's education problem does not wash.

In fact, private schools could not possibly manage if substantial numbers of children in public school showed up with the inadequate amount of money spent on each child.

Nor would those schools be ready to accept the wide range of students with various mental and physical handicaps.

Thomas blithely speaks of what "parents" want, apparently oblivious to the fact that great numbers of school children have no parents in the usual sense.

In Tulsa, or any other metropolitan area in the U.S., it is surprising how many grandparents, aunts and uncles or foster parents are rearing children.

A child who has even one parent trying to get him or her into a private school has a big advantage over many of his or her peers. A parent or parents that care make all the difference.

Charter schools? These schools get the tax money (per child) that the government spends on them for public education.

Here again, Charter schools have a place, but the reason for their existence is that their sponsors believe they can do a better job than public school administrators with the same money.

So far, there has been little convincing evidence that children in private or charter schools perform better than their public school counterparts.

In Oklahoma charter school sponsors have found that the state does not spend enough per child on education to operate either public or charter school adequately. One group that wanted to operate charters for profit found that impossible on what Oklahoma spends on children.

Oklahoma is 46th in the nation when it comes to money spent on educating children. It spends $6,961 per year per child. The national average is about $10,400.

If Oklahoma spent more money on children perhaps all schools, including charters, could do a better job.

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