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JLeslie's avatar

Will you discuss public schools with me?

Asked by JLeslie (55211points) September 24th, 2010

As you probably know there is a lot of attention on education the last couple of weeks, because of the release of the movie,Waiting for Superman and the $100 million donation Mark Zuckerberg made to Newark city schools.

If the money greatly improves the system, will that be an argument to put more money into public schools? Possibly higher taxes?

Will it prove the people against putting money into public education simply don’t care about public education. That it is not that they think it is unfixable, or that the government screws everything up, but that they just don’t care to help other peoples children? I admit my own bias on this, and I think those same people don’t understand how it affects society as a whole. Many have said to me things like, “nothing will help those kids.”

Are you optimistic a real change will happen in cities like Newark?

I’m interested in any other ideas or opinions on the topic.

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27 Answers

Hawaii_Jake's avatar

I am quite optimistic about public education in general. We have near universal literacy. I believe our economic prowess can be directly attributed to the quality of our public education. We continue to succeed in areas like the arts as well, where funding is often the lowest.

Is improvement needed. Yes. Undoubtedly. But to blindly criticize education ignores the great triumphs it has made. We didn’t put a man on the moon by importing all our scientists from other countries.

That’s a very short answer to a very large topic. Maybe it will help get the discussion going.

YARNLADY's avatar

Public Education is fine for most of the general public. For some students, the usual methods don’t work, and it’s a shame the public system doesn’t provide for them. I was able to supplement my homeschooling with an excellent outreach program here in California, and later by making use of a charter school.

It is my firm belief that children with parents who are not pro-active in the system will not receive as good an education as those with parents who remain alert to their choices.

Simone_De_Beauvoir's avatar

I think that pumping money is necessary, but I consider it secondary to rethinking the structure of education all together – education has always provided a workforce and, economically, our country has changed numerous times and now we don’t understand anymore what schools are supposed to do, in all actuality. Too many schools are about tests, tests that don’t actually test or predict anything and teachers are underpaid and un-supported, so to speak. Parents are often dismissed or they, themselves, don’t think about their children’s educational development. Another point I’d like to make and I don’t know where I saw this but U.S. puts quite a lot of money for miserable results in comparison to other countries who put in less money and get better results – but, that is, of course given some standard again which can and should be debated. Finally, until we address the dire disparities between schools in poor neighborhoods and schools in well to do neighborhoods, it’s all a farce.

Blackberry's avatar

Maybe these public schools should bust out the teaching methods of one Marva Collins. : )

ETpro's avatar

Great and very important question. Thanks for bringing it up.

As much as I care about education, I don’t think it’s just a matter of throwing more money at the problem. In inflation adjusted $2007 dollars, we spent $2,769 in 1961–62 (the year I graduated HS) and today spend $10,041 per student per year. But I think we’re getting far less for our money today while spending nearly four times as much.

Also, the success that Geoffrey Canada (the man who inspired the movie Waiting for Superman) has achieved didn’t come through more money but through better use of what money was available.

I see that Teachers Unions are protesting the showing of the movie. Much of the far right wants to dismantle public education altogether, and I completely oppose that. Any move to a voucher system is the first step in killing the educational system that made the USA a great nation, and setting the stage for an oligarchy where only the rich can afford education, and a serf class is bred to serve them at slave wages.

But the right is right when they claim that teacher’s unions have interfered with every effort to make meaningful reforms to education. My mom retired after a lifetime career as a public school teacher, and a member of the AFT as well. It pains me to say that the organization has become more the problem that the solution. But it is the case, as I see it. I would love to see the Union wake up and become more like the trade guilds of old, serving to ensure the highest standards of excellence be upheld by all members. Sadly, the group has largely turned to featherbedding and preserving jobs no matter how poorly a member performs. They either need to change or to go.

Past that, let’s take what Geoffrey Canada has proved works so well in Harlem, and run with it.

Hypocrisy_Central's avatar

Fact from fiction, truth from diction. The only way to improve the sorry state of American schools is to put every single school under a voucher system. What incentive is there for schools to improve? The hope of federal dollars? That is why the impetus is all about the test. If schools had to operate under the rules of business they could not just slack off. It would be better for the students, the community, and the teachers.

The money should be attached to the student not the district. What the problem is not is that less affluent neighborhoods with a higher tax base get better stuff and a nicer campus. It is the low end of town who needs the money more but no tax to pay for it. With the money following the school it levels the playing field for all schools. Now all schools have to compete for the students, and the bucks attached to them. Those schools who are laxing or cruising know they have to step it up because another school might make changes to attract more students. Teachers will have to step it up because their bottom line is tied to how well their classes are ran, how interesting their lessons are, etc. If the school is known for a boring, dry curriculum it will mean less students, less students will mean less money, less money in the school will mean less raises and maybe teacher layoffs. Just as insurance companies, cell phone providers, etc have to be better than the next business to get more customers schools need to be just like that. The reason why cable providers get to hose everyone is because there are not enough choices. If parents have the choice to go to the school with the best AP science classes even if it is across town if that is what other schools want to be known for they better punch up their science and other AP classes or get left in the dust. Vouchers won’t kill schools it will make all of them better if all are made to use them, private and public alike.

ETpro's avatar

@Hypocrisy_Central I’d look at a system that put tax dollars in a student-attached voucher within public schools. For the reasons I stated before, I am completely, adamantly opposed to vouchers paid for by tax dollars funding private, for profit or church schools.

But given a studen-attached voucher system, wouldn’t school transportation and logistics become a huge headache? We might be trading one monster for another.

Trillian's avatar

I think that the money that is in the system now should be more properly administered.

jrpowell's avatar

I will share my experience with the passing of Measure 5 in Oregon. This gutted the schools. In one class we went from having textbooks for home and having a copy in the class. This helped our backs. After measure 5 we lost the in class copies. They had to sell them.

ETpro's avatar

@johnpowell Great input. That moved school funding largely from property taxes to state funding. The idea was along the lines of what @Hypocrisy_Central is suggesting, to level the playing field for schools in poorer districts. But the ballot measure gutted one avenue of school funding without actually doing anything to create the alternative.

Hypocrisy_Central's avatar

@ETpro But given a studen-attached voucher system, wouldn’t school transportation and logistics become a huge headache? We might be trading one monster for another. Many, many parents already drive their kids to school because they fear the boogey man in a bush might snatch them if they didn’t and those who have no cars or don’t do it now I feel would have a new industry built around them. Just as the schools would then have to up their game to get the student body aka the money people, there would be kiddie cap companies and such to step in to pick up the slack. Those who can provide the best service and value for the dollar will survive and those who are crappy will go the way of the T-Rex quite quick, but many people will have a job being an alternate to school buses. It is rather doable.

JLeslie's avatar

I heard some interesting points recently on tv during discussions on public education. Here are some of them:

The states that generally do the worst in ranking for public education are the ones where there isn’t a union. I tend to be very annoyed with the union, but this made me think for a second. States like MS I think are not unionized, and I would bet their schools don’t compete very well with other states. But I don’t think it has to do with the union, I think it probably has more to do with the people in power in general, and how the wealthy and middle class in those states tend to send their own kids to private school. But I am making guesses out of my own subjective observation.

Also, recently on Morning Joe, I think it was Lawrence O’Donnell, who used to be an educator, said back in the 50’s, and even before that, women with incredible intelligence and knowledge became school teachers, because other careers were not available to them. Now, those women would be lawyers, and doctors, and political advisors, and journalists, etc. Basically he said, without saying it, many of the teachers of today simply don’t stand up to the teachers of yesteryear.

My thoughts on vouchers is…most people I know in favor of vouchers, want it because they resent dumping money into the public system when their children go to private school. I can see the argument for wanting to give kids the ability to choose a better school, and have the money follow them. But, I would think the money is not enough to cover private tuition, And so poor kids probably still could not afford it? Plus, school is much less expensive overall if the public schools are good. Private schools around here are something like $12 to $15k a year for high school. That is crazy to me. I don’t know anyone paying that much in property taxes, and certainly not paying $30k, which is two kids in private high school.

Hypocrisy_Central's avatar

@JLeslie
My thoughts on vouchers is…most people I know in favor of vouchers, want it because they resent dumping money into the public system when their children go to private school. That argument is toothless if all schools public and private were under a voucher and the money traveled with the student and not locked to a district. Then they cannot say they are paying for something they have no opportunity to gain value out of, not really.

But, I would think the money is not enough to cover private tuition, And so poor kids probably still could not afford it? Supply and demand, the basis of free enterprise. That is how we purchase most things. If Silver Spoon private school offers X, Y, Z, but cost 13k a year and Joe Average public school ups their game to where they can provide 90% of what Silver Spoon school can at 40% to 60% less, you still think parents will flock to Silver Spoon just because they offer 10% more in lesson, AP classes etc? That is why we all do not use the same HD TV or computer. If you could get most of the same features and just as great of a picture from a LG TV as a Sony but it cost 30% less you think many people will pass that up? You see it happen often with jet travel, one drops their price and the others follow suit or lose potential customers. If voucher public schools could offer near the same or better than private schools I think the student body of those private schools will go down because the demand will be less, and that will help those who don’t want to go back to public school no matter what, supply and demand.

ETpro's avatar

@Hypocrisy_Central @JLeslie‘s argument against a voucher system is certainly not toothless. If we tried a voucher system and let public funding pay for private education, those who wish the public school system dead for whatever their reason have just what they need to achieve that, By subsidizing their favored system, whether it be private for-profit schools, church schools, political indoctrination camps or what; they could quickly bring public education as we have known it since the days of THe Founding Fathers to an end here.

JLeslie's avatar

@Hypocrisy_Central to kind of reiterate what @ETpro said, I also think it might help destroy the public school system if we allow vouchers to be used in private schools, especially in areas where there is significant racial discrimination, like where I live. Too many of the white upper middle class around me resent paying for black kids in the ghetto to go to school. It is that blatant where I live. As far as I am concerned they are fighting to set us back and become a third world country.

Plus the idea of my tax dollars going to religious schools is unsettling. Someone recently was saying to me that basically everyone in Latin America has a Catholic education, because anyone with means goes to private school, and for the most part that is Catholic school. That is an overgeneralization, but the point was that even if those countries have public secular schools, it doesn’t make a difference, because they are crappy. Giving public money to religious schools, that much worse in my mind. Plus, wouldn’t that mean that the government then could start having regulations in religious schools, if they are helping fund the school?

I am in favor of children being able to change public schools. From what I understand that was just passed in California, making it easier for a student to go to the public school of their choice, and the money follows the student.

I guess my question to you is, is your end goal with vouchers to improve the public system?

Hypocrisy_Central's avatar

@ETpro @JLeslie‘s argument against a voucher system is certainly not toothless. I mean it is toothless for the parents who want to use the excuse that their only option is private school and therefore since they will never have comparable education to private school the private option is all they will have.

@JLeslie I also think it might help destroy the public school system if we allow vouchers to be used in private schools, How so? And if the present system is failing so many kids is it worth keeping in its present configuration? Where would we be if people decided to go pass a 16bit computer system would undo everything people worked on since the early 50s? Each improvement made the computer better than it was more than it destroyed it. Is keeping the same system afraid to move forward worth losing 10s of thousands of kids off the back of the apple cart?

Too many of the white upper middle class around me resent paying for black kids in the ghetto to go to school. Tough, they pay for roads that welfare mothers use, or subsidize public transportation that homeless and other poor people use, they even indirectly subsidize housing for the poor, so if they end up allowing some poorer kid a better education de factoly, tough.

Plus the idea of my tax dollars going to religious schools is unsettling. It is not a perfect world. I find it more than unsettling that my tax dollars go to any programs or clinics that uses human stems cells or allows abortions especially to teens without having to get permission of any parent, but that is the way it is more than not. So, tough for my, I just have to suck it up for the moment and move on.

I guess my question to you is, is your end goal with vouchers to improve the public system? My support of it is have all education improve. I see vouchers has a way of forcing underperforming schools to get better or go under. Imagine if the restaurant industry worked like the schools? Lousy eateries could survive way longer than they should. If it is up to the students if the school survived or not then the school has to cater to what the students and their parent s want. When public schools get closer to private schools in quality of education because they will have to do it to attract students, the private schools will have to lower price or risk losing many students to the new and improved public schools. It will be better for all students. If the student can leave a weak or dangerous school for a better on, that school will have to clean up its act if it wants to remain open; get better classes and teachers and clean up security.

JLeslie's avatar

@Hypocrisy_Central It will destroy the public school system, because it will drain it of its funding. Of Course I want the public schools to get better, by people improving it because it needs to be improved, not by taking money away from it. Some schools might rise up, but some might wind up shutting down, and some will remain running at a ver low standard, and the children remaining there will be in worse shape. The very poor urban child can’t realistically have their parents drive them to a school 30 minutes away, their parent probably does not even have a car. I generally believe in a competitive model also, but on this, because of the bad motives of so many people, I differ. When I say they don’t want to pay for the black children in the ghetto, what I mean is they don’t give a shit about those kids. They will vote in politicians who will drain those schools of rescources; not just voucher money, but money in general. It is not a matter of too bad we all pay for things we don’t want to with tax money, this can really damage children and a whole generation, and society. The people who don’t give a damn about public school don’t understand the impact of no school for part of our society. I am mnot grouping you in with them, I know you arenot suggesting children not getting educated, but these other people are.

YARNLADY's avatar

@JLeslie The only reason the plan would work the way you fear is because the public schools cannot compete with the others. If they would simply improve to the point where students want to choose them, the voucher system will have done it’s job.

Hypocrisy_Central's avatar

@JLeslie It will destroy the public school system, because it will drain it of its funding. How could the schools lose money if the students are there and the money follows them? Even without vouchers schools loose money at least in this area they do.

Some schools might rise up, but some might wind up shutting down, and some will remain running at a ver low standard, and the children remaining there will be in worse shape. Again, in this area that happens now. There is at least 2 stories in the news sometimes more of a school district having a heated meeting about which school they will close to save the district money. There was a new very high tech school close to here they closed because it only had 82 students, and all the new homes that was suppose to be built to support it with tax dollars never got built because of the real estate bust. Had that been a voucher connected school kids would be attending it right now instead of it sitting new and empty.

The very poor urban child can’t realistically have their parents drive them to a school 30 minutes away, their parent probably does not even have a car. The time it takes to get to school depends more on traffic than distance. But I am not saying kids should be able to skip whole towns or cities to chose a school, maybe modifications on distance or area but kids today have to go to schools not in their back yard. When the district closes a weak school or one with low population to save money those students have to bus it or get to other schools they got transferred to, that happens now. But if it happened way more some entrepreneur will fill the gap with some kiddies cab service, and as more jump on the bandwagon these transport services will compete for riders so they will try to provide better and cheaper service than their rivals and those lower income people will have as good a shot as public transportation or better if they are subsidize like school lunches.

When I say they don’t want to pay for the black children in the ghetto, what I mean is they don’t give a shit about those kids. They will vote in politicians who will drain those schools of rescources; not just voucher money, but money in general. I understood how you meant it (no vein popping here), the politicians could not strip these schools on the ”wrong side of the tracts” of cash anymore than the private schools could run all public schools into the ground and by way of T-Rex. The bulk of the money is following the kids. If they have what the kids and their parents want, they will go there and the school will have those dollars. That ghetto school might just be the one to bust out with the best AP and college prep science classes, then they have an incentive to clean up and rid the thugs out of there because other kids from better areas will want to go there for those classes because it will help them for college. The only way the government can cause the school to be gutted if funds is to just steal the money, and I am sure there will be laws on who, how, and where that money is spent. And if parents are on their toes watching that won’t happen easy.

The people who don’t give a damn about public school don’t understand the impact of no school for part of our society. I am mnot grouping you in with them, I know you arenot suggesting children not getting educated, but these other people are. Vouchers take that power away from them. As it is now I see schools as being test score whores because the mucky, mucks up in the front office in the suits seem to think the higher the score the school must be working. They don’t care how the schools is actually working but high scores somehow equate to extra dollars and which school stays open, gets kudos, or end up as tumbleweed gatherers. The district looks at its bottom line not how best to serve the children. That is why a good magnet or charter school will get axed because it cost to much per student while another less performing school stays open. That is not bumping the heads of a whole generation of students? And the ones who are lucky their school is not closed get the joy of seeing it gutted of all arts, music, sports, etc. The money follows the kids the higher ups can’t stop the money unless they are going to bump off kids to intimidate others to stay away from a particular school an exaggeration you know.

@YARNLADY The only reason the plan would work the way you fear is because the public schools cannot compete with the others. If they would simply improve to the point where students want to choose them, the voucher system will have done it’s job. There it is there. If public schools could get more money by way of more kids wanting to choose it it can do so much more and it can hang or maybe exceed many private school. To simply think every kid will swell the ranks of private schools leaving public school avenues of dust is saying public schools are a bust, and why waste money on anything that is a bust? ;-)

JLeslie's avatar

@Hypocrisy_Central You have some good arguments, but I think it won’t happen how you theorize in realty. I wonder if there are parts of the country where it is working that you can hold up as examples?

To address some of your points:

You mentioned that even now schools close up, and then kids have to get to schools farther away. When a public school closes and children are redistricted, the district takes care of bussing the children. If a child chooses to go out of district, it is up to them to get to school.

You talked about a fantastic school that was built, and when the housing boom went bust it was basically empty. I’m thinking there must have been good schools all around, for people not to fight for their children to go there? My concern in Memphis is if a fantastic, modern, state of the art, topnotch teachers brought in from all over the country was planted right in downtown Memphis, and the students were 96% black, with a few Hispanics thrown in for good measure; you will still have whites who wont go near that school no matter how good it is. Still have whites, who pay for private school, pissed they are paying for that state of the art school, and voting to reduce their tax burden at every stop. There is an old tradition of people putting their white kids in crappier private schools if necessary, to keep away from the less desireables. It happens less now, it was much more apparrent when desegregration was happening years ago, but the sentiment is still alive. The only difference is now there are more private schools to choose from, and so they rarely have to choose a less desireable private school instead of the public school.

I am all for Magnet programs. Some cities have been doing magnets, even if it went by another name for a long time, and I think it is fantastic. My aunt went to Music and Art High School in NY, and my uncle to Bronx Science, this is back 50 years ago My niece and nephew went to magnets for Elementary and High school in FL. Charter when it works is fine with me too. But, these are all public. I like that better, getting creative and having choices within the public system.

What if your way means the public schools don’t get inspired, but more and more money, and most of the good people leave the system? What if it does efectively destroy the public education system in some parts of the country, instead of meating the challenge brought on by compeition as you suggest? I ask you to think about this question I pose all of the time to people who think it is fine if the public system falls apart. Name me an industrialized, prosperous, successful country that doesn’t have a public education system? Where in history has that worked?

ETpro's avatar

@Hypocrisy_Central wrote: “I mean it is toothless for the parents who want to use the excuse that their only option is private school and therefore since they will never have comparable education to private school the private option is all they will have.” That argument seems to be a tautology. Of course, if we don’t give parents tax support for private schools, they won’t have tax support for private schools. Rather than putting the longevity of public education at risk by humoring such people, I would prefer we fix the public school system.

JLeslie's avatar

I had another thought. A few months ago I asked about the rising costs of college, why it was increasing so quickly,where the money was spent, or was it truly all going to simply cover standard expenses. Anyway, several people answered that prices went up because there are more government grants, loans, and scholarships, basically saying the free money was out there for the taking, our tax dollars. I had never thought of that as part of the reason until I asked that question. So, isn’t it possible the private schools will do it too?every student will come with $10k and thence canals charge the parents!!! Bonanza! And, then again, we are back to poor kids shit out of luck, and people in the business of educating with higher profits, or more money going into the churches.

ETpro's avatar

@JLeslie That’s a good point. While we tend to think intuitively of private, for-profit business as inherently efficient, being driven by competitive pressure, that is not the case for businesses that draw a large part of their funding from the taxpayers. They often strive to drive up costs, as their profits are a percent of gross. And they invariably seek and win great influence within government. Our entire military industrial complex is a perfect example of this.

Hypocrisy_Central's avatar

@JLeslie Anyway, several people answered that prices went up because there are more government grants, loans, and scholarships, basically saying the free money was out there for the taking, our tax dollars. There will be little fear of cost going up like that because the money per student will be the same, it won’t be as if the public schools can say lets charge each student X amount of dollars, etc. If the cost per freshman system wide is X amount of dollars no matter which school they attended the only way a school could get a bigger slice of the pie is to get more students wanting to attend. The reason why so many other businesses or organizations that deal with the government can rake the government over the coals is because the government had to set price and would just sign the check and send it. If private schools want to charge more than the amount of the voucher I guess they could but they better have way more to offer or why would someone spend 40% more to get basically the same education, unless they just want the name of a particular institution attached to it.

JLeslie's avatar

@Hypocrisy_Central so then would you say government loans had nothing to do with college tuition going up, or do you see that differently than primary and secondary school? I never formed a solid opinion for myself about that theory regarding universities, I was just stating what others suggested. My point regarding private schools was if the families can afford $15k now, and all of a sudden the government gives them $10k in vouchers, the school could up tuition to $17k and parents could easily afford it, in the end paying $8k less than they were previously. What would stop schools from doing that?

ETpro's avatar

@Hypocrisy_Central My concern is not how public schooles might treat this system, but how private for-profit business and church schools would proceed it they succeeded in strangling the Public School system.

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