Last weekend a policeman in Ferguson shot Michael Brown, an unarmed black 18-year old under circumstances that are unclear. Riots between citizens and heavily armed policemen have ensued along with looting and tear-gassing. The most poignant article I’ve read about this situation, “Michael Brown’s School“, came from the Daily Kos. The article should be read in it’s entirety to gain a sense of the preposterousness of the situation, which includes the following tidbits:
- The senior class at Michael Brown’s school had two graduation gowns that everyone used to have their graduation pictures taken.
- The taxpayers in Michael Brown’s town, Ferguson, paid the highest rates in the state, but were unable to raise enough money to cover the costs for a quality education
- The State Board forced Ferguson to merge with a neighboring community whose tax base was equally stressed and both communities enrolled predominantly African American students.
- The accreditation of the school Michael Brown attended was withdrawn by the State Board and the students from school were allowed to enroll in neighboring districts… until the costs exceeded what the Ferguson taxpayers could pay… at which point the State Board restored accreditation thereby preventing ferguson students from attending neighboring districts.
- The school district is now operated by Peter F. Herschend of Branson, Missouri. To quote the article: “Herschend isn’t a former teacher, or a former principal, and doesn’t have any training in the education field. He’s the owner of Herschend Family Entertainment, which runs Silver Dollar City and other amusement parks. He’s also one of the biggest contributors to the Republican Party in the state.
The article concludes with this paragraph, which tells you all you need to know about the future of privatized public education:
So, when you’re wondering who runs Michael Brown’s school district—when you’re wondering who’s in control of an urban, minority district so poor that the students have only two graduation gowns to share—it’s a white Republican millionaire from out state.
A businessman who never taught school, led a school, or has training in education… but knows how to make money. I hope that’s NOT the future of public schooling in our country.
I just read “The Crazy World of Public Schools” an article from the RealClear Politics blog by Heather Wilhelm and found myself agreeing with the pretext of the article… but bewildered by the conclusions and befuddled by the comments. Wilhelm opens her article with the assertion that our public education system is insane. Here’s the part of the article I found to be on point:
With so many oddities in the public school system, it’s hard to know where to start. Across the country, arbitrarily drawn school district lines radically distort real estate markets. Anyone who has shopped for a house in the United States knows one sad truth: Better school districts command a steep premium. (The other truth, it seems, is that you probably won’t like the kitchen.) Despite our government’s lofty rhetoric of free and equal public education, the fact remains that better-off families can buy their way into better schools.
At this juncture, I expected the article to go in the direction of describing the injustice of this set up… but instead it went in the direction of bemoaning the escalating costs of schooling and the “waste” of money, citing the expansion of administrative and non-teaching positions that have been added since 1950. She concludes with this non-sequitor:
School choice, it seems, should be a no-brainer. Why not give families vouchers, allowing them to make free choices for their children’s education? There’s a reason increasing numbers of inner-city activists in places like Chicago and Washington, D.C., are fighting for charter schools and voucher programs. They know choice would be better for their kids. They know the government has failed them.
The government HAS failed the “inner city activists” in Chicago and DC, but not the federal government. Neither the State nor local governments have addressed the underlying problems that affect children raised in poverty. To make matters worse, local politicians have used slots in schools to reward political cronies and, in some cases, kowtowed to unions. Voters have gotten what they voted for and might be able to rectify the problems if they had a chance to vote for school boards— but in DC and Chicago the school boards have no decision making authority because they supposedly could not manage the schools effectively. What’s crazy is that there is no evidence whatsoever that the new leadership has made any difference whatsoever.
And the comments… ay yi yi! They tended to jump all over the unions and the Democrat party who is “in the pocket” of the unions. The commenters need to read more deeply: the unions are abandoning Cuomo in NY and Duncan/Obama at the federal level: they have no friends at ANY level of government now and have become the easy scapegoat for all that is wrong with public education. Here’s my reaction to the article, which is a decided outlier to others:
This just in: money makes a difference.Based on the metric that everyone loves— namely standardized achievement tests— children from affluent, well educated homes outperform children raised in poverty. It has always been this way. If money doesn’t matter, why do people spend thousands MORE to go to elite private schools? If money doesn’t matter why do people spend thousands more to go to “brand name” colleges instead of State schools? If money doesn’t matter why do parents pay a premium to live in neighborhoods and communities with good schools? If unions are “the problem”, which many commenters seem to believe, why do union dominated states outperform states without unions on standardized tests? And those high-performing affluent districts that require homeowners to pay a premium— they have unions, too. Not every district serving children in poverty is as poorly managed as DC or Chicago… and those affluent district’s per pupil costs often dwarf the examples of urban schools in this article. Sorry, we need to do something to help the kids who have the misfortune of being born in the wrong zip code… and money might help them.
I expect to receive some adverse reactions to this line of thinking… but DO hope that maybe one comment reader will see the irrationality of their reaction to the irrationality of public education funding.