Parents have three options for providing their
children with a formal education — public schools, private schools, and
home schooling. Each path has advantages and disadvantages.
Public education has always been free and accepts all
students; but it can be over-regulated. Those choosing private education
must pay tuition charges as well as taxes that support public schools; but
they have more freedom of selection and curriculum. Home-schooled students
have the maximum amount of freedom and are not faced with the general
bureaucracy associated with public and private education. Certainly,
detailed lists of real and perceived assets and liabilities could be
compiled for each of these three paths.
Such lists often surface during debates over which
educational path is superior. In most cases, it’s difficult to determine
which of these methods provides the better education. Research on the
subject is often biased and confusing. I liken it to responding to your
wife’s question, “Which dress looks the best on me?” Choose any one
and you lose. The proper answer is, “You’d look great in any dress.”
In education, most children would “look great in” any of the three
methods, if provided with a good educational environment. One fact all
would agree upon is that educating children costs money. Therefore, most
of the heated debate on education arises when funding is the main issue.
Every year we hear arguments supporting a voucher
system for private education. This year there has been a significant
amount of discussion about providing vouchers for poorer children in the
District of Columbia. The idea is that children from less affluent homes
will benefit more from private education than their richer counterparts.
This unsupported hypothesis, as well as the theory that competition among
educational agencies will provide a better educational environment, are
constant themes of voucher supporters.
Many would agree that public education is not
sufficiently funded and that transferring funds from public education to
private education does little to fix the big problem. I agree with this
analysis. Giving a poor child the option and money to attend private
school does little to change the fact that the child still lives in a poor
home environment. Making small improvements in the overall community
environment in which the child lives will do far more good than providing
funds for a short vacation for a few students to a perceived “better
world.” Educating the majority of poor children will always be the
responsibility of the public school system. If we are truly concerned
about these children, society should attempt to provide more support for
public schools, rather than transfer dollars away to another system.
Voucher supporters state that giving the child a
choice will improve education because it introduces competition into the
equation. They assume that competition among educational agencies is
always good. I think it’s just the opposite. It’s cooperation that
provides real progress. Consumers of electric energy have had to live with
the negative effects of unregulated competition in the electric utility
industry. Over-emphasis of competition in some areas of society can do
more harm than good. It can lead to outright corruption in industry,
sports, education, and other fields of endeavor. If schools were forced to
compete with each other, why would they want to cooperate? Educators have
always openly shared the tools of education. Introduce unregulated
competition and I will no longer share my playbook with the opposing team.
In fact, I’ll try to recruit the better players from other teams in an
effort to win.
Winning brings us to the next issue. How do we
measure success with students who are given the opportunity to attend
private schools? Will they be held to the same testing standards as their
public-school counterparts? Will private schools be required to meet the
same teacher certification standards as public schools? Speaking on this
issue, Jeanne Allen, president of the Center for Education Reform, a
pro-voucher and school-choice group, said, “The very freedom that
private schools have is what makes them more successful than their
counterparts in the District (of Columbia).” She also stated, “It’s
the bureaucracy, more paperwork, and once you give any education system
license to control a private institution, they will take it and run.”
Seems to me private schools want all the perks of public funding and none
of the drawbacks. Why not remove all the bureaucracy for the public
schools, including the over-reliance on testing programs (SOLs), and see
what happens? My response to Jeanne Allen is, “What measures are you
using to determine that private schools are more successful?”
In my immediate family I’ve had children or
grandchildren in both public and private schools. Being an educator all my
life, I’ve also done a lot of informal home schooling. I’ve seen the
advantages and disadvantages of all systems. My three children and one
daughter-in-law are all teachers. They have taught in both private and
public schools. I have a grandson who attended private school last year
and is now attending public school. His sister still attends a private
school. Do I say one will receive a better education than the other
because of the schools they are attending? Maybe a voucher system would
have kept my grandson in private school, but I doubt that it will make a
significant difference in his ability to meet future educational goals.
It’s certainly a blessing that he had a good public school system to
fall back on. I’m not worried, because my grandchildren have the most
important element in a good education — a supportive family.
My support for children attending private schools is
accomplished though my church. I choose to contribute, although my
children have never attended a church-sponsored school. The American
education system will always have private and public schools, but only one
is charged with the education of all children. Public education is the
foundation of a democratic government. The voucher system will do little
to improve the quality of education for all children.
there are at least two sides to every issue. Do you have a different
view? This column is meant to provoke thought, so keep sending
comments. Each one is read with the utmost interest. Send e-mail to: DrBmailbag@aol.com,
or send written responses to the editor. Mail will be forwarded
to the author.