Public education serves the common good

hainesMaintenance of the commons – resources belonging to or affecting the whole of a community – constitutes an important liberal ideal. The endeavor of providing a complete education to all children demands the support of our public schools in the interest of sustaining a well-informed society.

Oligarchic interests in this nation seek to turn education into a saleable commodity available only to the highest bidders, an effort that dangerously undermines our progress toward achieving our egalitarian ideals. For all who care about the one-in-five children living in poverty, wariness is in order when the economic elite proclaim their support for vouchers.

There are approximately 100,000 public schools in the United States, compared to about 34,000 private schools. Public schools serve 50 million students while private schools serve 5.4 million. Three times as many public schools serve 10 times the number of students as private schools.

First, one is forced to wonder how many children the private schools would be willing to enroll and what services would be furnished to students with special needs, services that are mandated in the public schools. Second, it is clear that defunding public schools would impede the delivery of those mandated services.

Third, it is not clear that vouchers truly serve the needs of the recipients. According to a recent article from the Brookings Institute, “recent research on statewide voucher programs in Louisiana and Indiana has found that public school students that received vouchers to attend private schools subsequently scored lower on reading and math tests compared to similar students that remained in public schools. The magnitudes of the negative impacts were large.”

How can that be?

Could it be children are reminded of the stigma of poverty when placed in a room full of more affluent peers? Might it reflect lack of access to educational resources and enrichment programs outside of the school?

The compilation of behaviors called “teaching” vary little between public and private schools. Effective instruction looks the same, everywhere.

Teachers in private schools possess no miraculous pedagogical methodology; what they have is a less-challenging clientele. Honestly, having observed instruction delivered in dozens of scenarios during my 30-year career as an educator and labor leader, well-organized lesson plans share many attributes no matter where they are delivered.

Defunding public schools to fund voucher programs harms the children expressing the highest needs and furnishes poor results for the few students the program purports to advantage. Vouchers succeed best at turning public funds into private profit margins.

If the conservative agenda convinces Americans that parents only deserve the education they can afford, only those who can afford a complete education will obtain one. That outcome, however, is not in our common interest.

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