Thursday, August 29, 2013

I Am Not a Bad Person (and other fallacies about public and private school dynamics).

So this nonsense is making the rounds.   And from the first few lines ("I am not an education policy wonk" means "I am talking out my ass without any actual evidence.")  it's pretty clear that this is going to be a train wreck of an essay.  The key assumption is here is that kids who go to private schools come from families that don't care about public schools.  If they went to public schools they would care, and public schools would eventually get better.   This is so wrong, that it demands a response.

Most private schools that have rich people in them, which is the focus of the article, are in cities.  Just like the private school, I teach in and my kids attend.    If that private school didn't exist and I didn't work there, I would live in the suburbs.  My kids would live in a suburb and attend a school that, in all likelihood, had fewer students of color and less economic diversity than the school I work in (30 percent of the families get financial aid, 30 percent are families of color.  No, they aren't always the same families.  But some of them are).  That would suck for the city of Philadelphia, which is already having problems funding it's schools.  The last thing it needs is even more families leaving. And if all the private school kids in Philly went to public school, they'd have so many more funding problems immediately that would crash the system.  But let's ignore that for the moment and focus on a different reality.  Urban private schools and urban public schools need each other.  Private schools with rich people (that are mostly in cities) need people that live in cities.  For people to move to cities, they generally have to believe that the public schools are good enough to make it work.  I need people to believe in Philly public schools because that brings people to Philadelphia.  If people move straight to the suburbs, they probably won't ever look my school.  If they are in Philadelphia and decide that their neighborhood school isn't good enough, or they didn't get into their preferred charter, or they realize that we can do a bunch of stuff that public schools can't, like have individualized instruction, or truly innovative programming, or attract non-traditional expert teachers, then they come see us.      We aren't a threat to public schools.  At my school, we have programs that train public school teachers in methods and content that we develop.  We volunteer at public schools and work with public school kids.  We need viable public schools because we love our city.  And our parents do too.  When we've established relationships with schools in Africa or Asia, we've heard from our parents, "don't forget about Philadelphia, our city needs us too."  

The central assumption in the essay is that private school parents would hold bake sales to make their schools better.  It's sort of like the Green Lantern theory of political leadership.  Or maybe it's the rainbows and unicorns version.  It's the idea that a small amount of effort by just the right person (or small group of people) is all that is needed to fix a complex problem.  If the President would just directly address the American people, we could have single payer health care, or if people just voted their class interests, we would have a more just society, etc. etc.  But reality is messy.  Despite what  you heard in the TED talk, the solution is more complex than just a better app, or the president speaking out, or everybody sending their kids to public schools.  

If you are really interested in fixing shitty public schools, we have lots of options.  We know that the single biggest difference maker in whether a kid succeeds in school is whether that child grows up in poverty.   We know that millions of tax dollars are being siphoned off through shell corporations by unethical charter school operators who are stealing public money and kids' futures.  We know that the virtual school movement has been a failure.  We know that a group of undemocratic ideologues are intentionally destroying public education because they believe education is not a public good.  If all the families that attend my school attended public school, it wouldn't change those realities.  It wouldn't stop teacher blaming and union busting; it wouldn't increase the per student budget of Philadelphia schools; and it wouldn't reverse No Child Left Behind or Race to the Top.  Those are decisions that require long term political alliance building, hard research work, old-fashioned politics, and tough structural reform.  Many private school parents are already engaged in that struggle.  We aren't the problem... or the solution. 

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