A comment from David Warlick’s blog encouraged me to reflect more about “deregulating education.” Here is a copy of my comment post on David’s post and PJ’s comment:

It may sound wishy-washy at this point, but I am not really sure what my opinion on charter schools is. I do support empowering teachers, and to the extent that a charter school does that, it could be a step in the right direction. However, I am very concerned that the legislative push to expand public funding of charters and privates will (and is) directly taking away needed funding from our public school systems. For many students, their only viable choice IS a public school. We have GOT to fight to improve and reform public schools, rather than just throwing up our hands legislatively and saying in effect, “We can’t change public schools, so let’s just support charter/private alternatives.”

The root of this argument is widespread policymaker frustration over the difficulty they continue to have in reforming education. I agree that a BIG problem in our schools today is the inability of administrators to fire teachers who are not doing a good job and should leave the classroom– but because of legal requirements (see the school section of Philip Howard’s website Common Good for more on this) and teacher unions, in most states (even those like Texas with systems supposedly making the process easier) it can be very difficult.

I had a great conversation this past weekend with a college classmate of mine, Tim Kane, who is now an economist at the Heritage Foundation and writes a team blog titled “Right Economy.” Tim’s view on educational reform is typical of many in current US conservative political circles, I think. They contend the only way to reform education and shake it up is to release “market forces” in the educational environment by supporting charters and vouchers.

I do not necessarily agree. Mainly because I think public tax dollars need to go to support our public schools. Tim points to Washington DC as an example of where tons of tax dollars go to support education, but the results are terrible. I am not sure what the solution is there from a government standpoint, but I am convinced more than anything else what students in Washington DC and everywhere else need are passionate, dedicated teachers who care for them and do everything possible to help them learn and succeed.

The motto for the Stanford University College of Education’s STEP program is “Teach to Change the World.” Isn’t that what everyone in education should be doing? Sadly, I don’t think some teachers are. And the hard truth is, those teachers who aren’t need to leave the profession, or be shown the door.

It is so ironic to me to compare the evaluation systems we have for K-12 versus university education here in Lubbock, Texas. At the university level (at Texas Tech, which I am most familiar with,) the only measure of faculty performance is the student evaluation forms that are filled out at the end of each semester. For K-12 teachers, it is the performance of their students on standardized exams that is a primary measuring stick. Why don’t our K-12 students and parents fill out evaluation forms regularly on their teachers? If we value quality, shouldn’t we do that?

Deregulating education is about much more than simply supporting school charters or vouchers. Those are political proposals that are already “out there” and well known. To me, deregulating education is fundamentally about empowering the teacher to teach, to serve his/her students as a creative artist of engaging instruction, rather than some sort of automoton that can spoon feed the prescribed teacher-proof curriculum of the day.

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3 Responses to More thoughts on “deregulating education”

  1. Bill Riedel says:

    DON’T PROVIDE PUBLIC MONEY TO PRIVATE SCHOOLS

    This is to warn you to beware of letting any public money go to private schools, in light of disastrous problem this is causing here in Australia.

    About 40 years ago, the Federal government started to give some funds to poor Catholic schools so that they could upgrade their libraries, science labs, and things like that. Subsequently, lobbyists for the private school industry became ever more successful at gaining access to public funds. Private schools have therefore proliferated. Public funds have enabled them to keep fees low enough to attract students who would otherwise go to public schools. About a third of Australia’s children now go to private schools and that proportion continues to increase, with no end in sight.

    Private schools now receive about a half of their operating expenses from government sources. In fact it may often be well over 50%. When I enquired at a local Lutheran high school I was told that their contribution from the government is about 62% – even though this is a fairly prosperous region. On top of that, a few years ago the Federal government started making funds available also for building construction at private schools!!

    If this tendency continues, it won’t be long before the majority of children will be in private schools, and the public schools will be no more than detention centers of the most disadvantaged, worst behaved children, staffed by teachers and administrators who can’t find a position in ever-more-desirable private schools.

    It bothers me that children are not given a reasonably even chance to develop their potential. Worse than that, the system here exacerbates the tendency toward a two-tier society, the haves and the have-nots. Of course there will always be people better-off, and others worse-off, but disadvantaged children should not be discriminated against by the system of schools.

    Because this situation has been developing for 40 years, parents have gradually come to believe that it is the way things have to be. They seem incapable of conceiving an alternative. When I talk to them, they constantly bring up a few points that have become the common wisdom –

    if the private schools were shut down, the public schools could not accommodate all the children. Perfectly true, but equally stupid. No-one would think of reducing their numbers suddenly, but only by a sensibly measured pace of reduction of their government funding, which would then go toward strengthening the public system.

    public schools don’t put enough stress on “values”. Of course they don’t (nor should they) stress the values of any particular religion, but I’m sure that they instill moral human values. Parents can influence the values taught in public schools.

    parents deserve a “choice” of schools for their children. The public system offers a wide spectrum of kinds of school, and would offer more if the voters demanded. The only choice they don’t offer is that of religion. If parents want to use religious schools, they should pay the full cost and not be helped by the government. Homes and churches provide plenty of opportunity for teaching of religion.

    any government that proposed reducing funds to private schools would be out on their ear in no time. That may be true, but maybe not. A courageous party should advocate this as a step toward strengthening the public school system. They might be pleasantly surprised by the public’s positive response at the polls.

    The system now in place in Australia is clearly a failed experiment, and the people have a terribly difficult job ahead of them to avoid destruction of the public school system.

  2. Wesley Fryer says:

    I share your concerns. I think a fundamental goal of many people is reforming the public school system: increasing expectations of student performance and achievement, so they graduate with the knowledge and skills they need for vocational and life success. I agree we cannot just say “let the kids go to private schools” because that leaves so many kids behind who have no choice but to attend public schools. So how do we reform and constructively change public education? That is the question.

  3. Wesley Fryer says:

    I heartily DO support public charter schools. For some reason my understanding of the difference between VOUCHERS and charter schools was not clear at the time I wrote this post, but since I have become convinced public charter schools can be a very constructive and positive part of the educational reforms we need in the United States. Although I strongly support religious freedom and the exercise of religious faith, I don’t support public religious charter schools, however.

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