A huge competition is occurring all over the world right, one that is not as televised and advertised the way most sports are, but one that may just be more important than all the rest combined.
That competition is... education.
The "amazing race" known to the world as education has many categories in which it is competing with itself: to test or not to test, year-round school or four day-weeks, homework or no homework, private or public or charter, college-driven or career-oriented. Each of those categories has their individual pros and cons as to why they work best or why they have failed; the best answer has yet to be found.
Every solution works differently with societies that have been established with different roots and end goals in mind. Not only that but data has been known to be skewed in research in order to best fit the target audience or unfortunately at times, in order to showcase exactly what the funding institution wants to prove through that research.
This conversation is one that is constantly being held by teachers, parents, and governing bodies, particularly when attempting to create reform that will attract voters and balance budgets.
The Focus: Private vs. Public
In the United States there has been a constant battle trying to decide on what is best for children and their preparation for an ever changing future in the workforce. As times change and governments switch from Liberal to Conservative, the fight between public and private schools seems to be at the top of the list.
Why support a public school system that is failing our students who seem to not be improving in proficiency and mastery of content and should the focus change towards supporting a private and charter school system which has produced higher achieving students than the public system?
Why take away further funding from a public school system that can adequately support all students when given the right resources in order to fund a private and charter school system that is building up profits with little to no accountability of learning?
Both extreme views are a fallacy and misconstruction of what occurs on a day to day basis in both systems and overused as generalizations for both systems. Yes large school districts throughout the entire nation are in fact failing students as tests scores, literacy rates, and graduation rates drop, or make little to no progress through the course of multiple years in recent history. Yes private schools have had many a success story and provide students with tools, skills, lessons, and experiences far beyond the reach of most within the public system. However, public schools, even those within a poorly funded and historically low achieving inner cities have developed students who have broken boundaries in multiple fields, and just as well many a private and charter school have pushed away students who struggle increasing their performance rates at face value, and/or have closed down due to monetary or administrative issues such as fraud.
Problem - We still don't know which is best and how to approach the situation.
The fact of the matter is when comparing the American school system, (public and private) it is not on par with that of systems in other well developed countries, and it is that lack of an edge that is driving this push to defend one or the other in order to not just do what is best for students but also make sure we can continue to compete and lead the way when comparing American industries with those around the world.
Both the public and private system have pros and cons:
- Public cons - Large class sizes, limited number of teachers to support class sizes, limited resources, discipline problems are common, low flexibility in curriculum.
- Private cons - Cost of attendance, possible religious discrimination (specific to religious private schools), little to know special education is provided, teachers often do not need to be certified, regulations are not often present.
- Public pros - Teachers are certified, education is provided for all students regardless of background and ability level, no tuition is required, often have a variety of extra-curricular activities, located within neighborhood increasing sense of culture
- Private pros - Smaller classes, personalized and flexible instruction, greater and better resources, instruction dedicated to at home culture and religion as preferred by family.
So what now? Who do we side with? The failing public schools, or the promising private schools?
Well the truth of the matter is that, public schools are not failing our system is, as students struggle and incentives fail, the blame never (or rarely) goes to the people in charge who make the policies, provide the funding, and dictate the curriculum; instead the blame goes to the schools with limited resources, the teachers with low pay, and the students who are constantly being tested for what they know but instead of assisted properly in the aftermath are punished for what they don't as a result of those tests. A lot of private schools fail but since they are not regulated, or at least not as strictly and directly by the government, well, it is not their problem to handle. The school simply shuts down or recreates itself by getting rid of all the struggling students sending them back to the public system (which they tried to leave for betterment in the first place) and keeping only the success stories. There is nothing wrong with private schools, if anything in ideals they are optimal choices for all. However education should not be treated as business. Education, although not a fundamental right, is a necessity and a tool which can prevent the injustices of society.
The fix for public schools must come from within the system and its policies. Private education can continued to be funded and regulated privately that is their business and choice, but if the publicly funded public system is failing the public (you see where I am going with this), then it needs to be fixed from within from the top down and by the people from the bottom up, and not be dismissed. The system needs funding, the system needs a better form of assessing, and the system needs to understand that not every country, state, city, neighborhood, and child can all work under the same wing, thus cannot be assessed the same. The goal of 99.99% of educators is not to teach a subject and make sure kids pass their test but instead it is to teach the whole child and help them become successful.
Public schools are failing, and who is to blame? Everyone: our government for not putting a priority on education, our school boards for not hearing teacher and students voices, teachers for not making their voices being heard more often, and students for not showing up and realizing this whole movement is for them.
To fix the public school system everyone needs to stop placing blame, and get to work. Then and only then will the self-fulfilling prophecy currently created by the talk of the town be broken and true growth can return to the system.