Factors Involved in the Slow Death of High Quality Public Education
I seldom watch network television programs. However, I am aware that two shows are particularly popular these days: CSI New York and CSI Miami. It's good to know many people are curious about solving crimes and unraveling mysteries because I have a good mystery in need of resolution: Who is attempting to kill public education?
The lineup of suspects includes politicians, educators, intellectuals, thinkers, corporate types, free-market advocates and others. Many seem to have a vision of a better educational setting that does not include conventional public school education. The initial question is why would they want to commit this crime? Why would anyone want to destroy a system of public service that has served and continues to serve as the foundation of our democratic way of life?
"We the people" must be educated to be truly free. Our public education system has dared to educate all the people. Our public schools have served as great liberators for immigrants and others seeking the American Dream. Who would want to kill the dream maker? Why is public education the scapegoat for the ills of our society? Who decided that public education was the problem?
Some say the first formal blow against public education occurred in 1983 with Secretary of Education Terrel Bell's issuance of "A Nation at Risk." People discovered you could blame, accuse and abuse public education with little or no pushback or repercussions. Public education was a defenseless target because it had little data to defend itself and opponents could quickly disregard any professional responses as excuses or vested-interest remarks.
In spite of the damning assaults of Secretary Bell's report, the next 20 years saw the United States solidify its position as world leader, but public education received no credit for the success, only blame and unfunded mandates.
Was "A Nation at Risk" really the first blow? Or did the attack begin back in the mid-1950s with the space race and the Sputnik crisis? You remember the inquisition that decreed that our nation's education system was failing to teach mathematics and science and that we had to improve to compete against the Russians in the space race? Of course the national experts disregarded the fact that a substantial segment of our nation's population was being denied quality education and was confined to segregated schools.
If this was a case of spousal abuse, public education would have been placed in a safety shelter years ago. You see, it has been repeatedly attacked, misused and deprived. Through the years the forces to destroy public education have used data to make the case against it, to justify the creation of charter schools, vouchers and other initiatives to compromise or destroy public education. Statistics are the "weapons" wielded by assailants to batter public schools.
However, strange things have happened to these weapons. Scientific and research studies now are uncovering solid evidence that public education is working just as well or better than publicly funded charters and private schools when social factors of students are held constant, but many public officials are reluctant to share this information. The crime against public education appears to be both an inside and an outside job, but why? Who could be behind this crime? Maybe it is time to go back and take a new look — this time from the victim's point of view.
Public education is not the victim; it's the vehicle that transports the victims. Join me next time as we take a closer look into this CSI matter. In the meantime, join in the search for clues to help solve this mystery: Who is trying to kill public education?
Reprinted with the permission of the American Association of School Administrators. © AASA
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