by Duane Campbell
There are few institutions more directly connected to our state and national prosperity and our democracy than public schools. Now, a few states, primarily in the South, are dismantling public funding in order to create for profit options for private schools. http://www.nytimes.com/2013/03/28/education/states-shifting-aid-for-schools-to-the-families.html.
The truth is that most charter schools are public, that is they are funded by public funds. Usually they are managed privately, at times for profit. The teachers in these schools usually lack union protections.
Charters have become popular in communities of poor people because the urban public schools are often failing. Parents want an alternative for their children. Often in these communities the health system, the police, the nutrition and fire systems and employment opportunities are usually failing.
Smart and adept politicians, usually Republicans, use the failure of poorly funded urban schools as a hammer to batter public education.
It is not surprising that this rejection of public education as a route to prosperity for all comes from the South and states dominated by Republican legislatures. Arizona, Indiana, Texas, and Alabama and the other states promoting charters can go ahead and decline if they so choose, however we need to set up some borders and tariffs, and perhaps trade agreements to prevent their move to “free market” choices from imposing vast new costs on the states which continue to want democracy and prosperity. Remember, free market ideology is what brought us the economic crisis since 2007.
Public schools have significantly contributed to U.S. prosperity for the last 100 years and they have fostered our national unity. It is accurate that some public schools are failing- particularly those serving low income and minority children. But, there is no evidence that privatizing will improve these schools.The managerial models brought into public education from the corporate world have failed. They have not improved student well being, student achievement, nor democratic opportunity.
The arguments for privatization are based upon the myths of a “rational market”, or the rational market hypothesis. Loyalty to this ideology created the recent economic crisis. There is no evidence that more competition leads to more equality. It only leads to improved opportunity for selected groups – now funded at state expense. It doesn’t even seem to lead to improved schooling for the great majority of students. There is no evidence that more competition leads to more democracy nor more democratic institutions. This is the neo liberal myth.
The current era is time for a change for our society and in our schools. This generation must renew our democratic society. We face marked crises in government, politics, families, communities and in the schools. Business interests promote a neo liberal agenda that provides them with more profits while starving the public sphere of the society. Public schools have a particular responsibility to reverse these crises and to renew our democratic society. The first mission of pubic schooling is to equip all students for the responsibilities and privileges of citizenship – and many of the schools in low income areas are presently not fulfilling this mission. If we do not solve the problems of low performing schools our democracy is endangered. For our democracy to survive we need to create schools that value all of our children and encourages their educational achievement.
All children need a good education to participate in our democracy and prepare for life in the rapidly changing economy. Making schooling valuable and useful is vital to prosperity for all. Lack of quality education is a ticket to economic hardship. The more years of school that a student completes, the more money they are likely to earn as adults and the better their chance to get and keep a good job. Unemployment is highest among school dropouts as is incarceration for crimes. When we fail to educate all of our children, the high costs of this failure come back to hurt us in unemployment, drugs, crime, incarceration, violence and social conflict.
We need to invest in urban schools, provide equal educational opportunities in these schools, and recruit a well prepared teaching force that begins to reflect the student populations in these schools. We must insist on equal opportunity to learn, without compromise. When we do these things, we will begin to protect the freedom to learn for our children and our grandchildren, and to build a more just and democratic society.
Many schools serving urban and impoverished populations need fundamental change. These schools do not open the doors to economic opportunity. They usually do not promote equality. Instead, they recycle inequality. The high school drop out rates alone demonstrate that urban schools prepare less than 50 percent of their students for entrance into the economy and society. A democratic agenda for school reform includes insisting on fair taxation and adequate funding for all children. We cannot build a safe, just, and prosperous society while we leave so many young people behind.
At present there is not a political agreement to make the necessary investments to bring about substantial school reform in public schools. The U.S. government and the California state government will not make the necessary investments to improve education, nor to improve health care or to rebuild the economic infrastructure. The proposals to shift public funds to private schools is not reform. It is a major move in the wrong direction. They propose to fix public education by giving the money to private education.