Public Education: What I Believe
This is basically an opinion blog that attempts to defend the performance of those of us who work in public schools. It's a dirty job, but somebody's got to do it. It's been about six months since I began it, so I decided that it's time to do a summary post on my basic beliefs. Here they are:
1. I believe that public schools are doing a much better job than we are given credit for. I believe the best evidence of this is in the millions of public school students who have gone on to live productive lives.
2. I believe the most important factor in determining a student's performance is effort and not ability. I believe that student's who care about their education and try hard end up doing well, while those who don't care and don't try do poorly.
3. I believe too much of the blame for students who perform poorly is placed on the public schools themselves, and too little is placed on the parents of those students, the neighborhoods in which those students live, our culture, and especially the students themselves. (Public education critics view this as whining, but it's important, because as long as education reform ignores that and focuses solely on things going on inside the schools, any improvement is going to be limited.)
4. I believe that when education is a priority to the parents, the chances are good that the students will take their own education seriously. On the other hand, if parents don't make their kids' education a priority, the chances are that the kids won't either. (I recognize that there are exceptions to this, and that when parents care and the students don't, sometimes it is at least partially our fault.)
5. I believe one of the most important factors that determine the learning that takes place in a classroom is the effect that students have on other students. That means that if an average student is placed in a classroom with a lot of highly motivated students, that student will learn much more than if he or she is placed in a classroom with a number of apathetic or disruptive students. At the high school level, I believe this factor might be even more important than who the teacher is in that classroom.
6. I believe that a full-fledged voucher system would make public schools worse. The parents who would be the most likely to take their kids out of public schools and send them to private ones would be the parents who care the most about their kids education. As a result, there would be fewer and fewer highly motivated kids in those public school classrooms, and they would be made up of a higher and higher proportion of kids who don't care. I fear that this could result in a snowball effect as more and more parents pull their kids out of the public schools as they become worse and worse until they simply became holding cells for kids with no hope, no dreams, and no drive. However, I do believe that there are some places in our country where the public schools have become so bad that vouchers are justified. Sadly, they already have become "holding cells" but they have some kids in them who do want to learn, and they should be able to go someplace where they'll have a reasonable chance to do that.
7. I believe the most important reform we could make in public schools is to give teachers the power to remove disruptive and apathetic students from their classrooms. There would have to be safeguards to make sure that this power wasn't abused, but it should not involve lawyers and thousands of dollars to do it. Teachers should be given the power to remove kids from class, who have little interest in their own education and are hurting the education of their classmates. (There are people who have wanted to jump down my throat when I've stated this without further explanation. If you are one of those who want to do that, please check out this post before you do. If you still want to jump down my throat after you read it, jump away!)
8. The next most important reform we could make would be to give principals the power to keep their best teachers, regardless of seniority, when cuts have to be made, and to fire teachers who are not doing their jobs effectively.
9. I believe that God is alive and well in public schools.
So, there you have it. I realize that the world isn't going to stop because I've posted this, and that I shouldn't be expecting a breathless phone call from Margaret Spellings or President Bush, but I thought it was I good time to sum things up.