Conclusions: Faulty Comparison 4

In a stack of papers called Reform.

  • Feb
  • 28
  • 2006

The roles of parents, money, and school focus are terribly important and horribly absent from today’s average public school. Parents influence behavior on campus; money influences decisions on campus; school focus influences quality on campus.

Home Is Where The Heart Is

The role parents play has an even more profound impact on a student’s academic development than the role of the teachers encountered. If parents play their role one way, the work done at school is a joke, a game to be played while on campus and ignored otherwise; if parents play their role another way, there’s nothing to stop a student from reaching great heights and school becomes a staging area for life.

Something I gathered from my Needs series (2/18-23) is that schools need to find ways for parents to be involved in the happenings. Students need that, too, because that sets the tone for student attitudes toward education. With parents that care about a school, a student has a much better chance at performing well in school. And education is the great equalizer, the common denominator in addressing all kinds of social ills. Drugs, teen pregnancy, AIDS, STDs, gang violence, theft, murder, disrespect, unemployment, Republicans, Democrats, all of these things can be said to arise from a lack of education.

Without parents to carry the torch of education at home, schools have no hope of housing students who really want to be there. Without parents to set standards at home, teachers have no chance of getting students to see the value of the education they waste every day they stare at a wall instead of read along. Without parents who honor the importance of our work, students have no chance of realizing the connections between those 12 years in school and the rest of their lives.

Money, Money, Money… MONEY

We can’t keep saying that money isn’t an issue and then advocate for how great other systems are that spend more money per pupil. “We’re throwing money at it and that doesn’t seem to make a difference” is a common complain I hear about public education (spoken to me by a dear family member just days ago). And the other breath is about how great private schools or charter schools are and how great voucher schools would be. All of those school systems would receive more money per pupil than a public school. That can be due to higher tuition charged or less administrative overhead to filter the money away from the classroom, but no matter how it happens, it happens. There’s more money to spend on actually educating the students.

Here A Student, There A Student

With such a large student population, public schools can never hope to give each student exactly what s/he needs. There are too many possibilities to prepare for and it’s just not possible, as we are clearly seeing by the amount of students who leave high school unprepared for the challenges of college or the work field.

Private and charter schools are regularly one-third the size of an average public school. We are beginning to look at school and class sizes with things like Smaller Learning Communities and Morgan-Hart Funding. But a small school within a large school is just a large school in disguise. When the amount of students on a campus is large, then it’s a large school. I don’t care if there are 20 schools on a single campus and each of those 20 schools only has 100 students enrolled; that’s still a school of 2000 students.

Let’s stop playing games and start tracking numbers about how school and class size impacts student performance. There’s a school here attempting to receive charter status and I’m all for it. What better way to begin testing the efficacy of charter schools than to have one inside of a rather large public school district? If that school earns its charter, there are 10 other schools with similar student populations and we can determine the impact of the charter school model.

With fewer students on campus, other school systems have fewer needs to meet. With smaller numbers comes less variety. So it’s no wonder that smaller schools can give students what they need. Since they are smaller, they can specialize and do not have to provide every possible alternative. We should begin working on ways of determining if public schools’ attempt to provide a quality education for all is feasible. From what I see, that appears to be more than we can expect from any one system. Public schools are designed to reach the majority of students, ignoring those students who need specialized education or individualized opportunities. And then society calls the public school system a failure because of it.

What Does This Show Us?

When comparing things to public schools, let’s be sure to take all variables into consideration. We need to compare like objects. Comparing at-risk students in charter schools to at-risk students in public schools might be a fair comparison. Certainly, it’s more fair than comparing the student body as a whole.

In a twist of irony, it’s a waste of time to even consider the comparisons made to public schools. We know that public schools have problems and we may even agree as to what those problems are. If we disagree on how to solve those problems, then let’s move toward consensus. Comparing public schools to other systems that work does nothing unless the suggestion is that public schools become more like those other systems. That’s never been the suggestion I read, hear, or see. The comparison is simply made to point out how terrible public schools are.

Fine; public schools are terrible. And, hey, if it makes you feel any better, it’s all my fault. That’s right, my fault. And now that we’re done with that, let’s get on to fixing things. Make the suggestion that public schools in America should be more like public schools in Europe in that…?? Fill in that blank and we have a plan to discuss. Otherwise, it’s just a comparison made as an excuse to feel self righteous.

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