Wednesday, April 06, 2005

Choice on whose terms?

I heard hours of passionate testimony on vouchers in the Texas House Public Education Committee on Tuesday. Some parents tearfully recounted hellacious stories of abuse and violence done to their children by other students in public schools. A six year old was urinated on. A 12 year old was beaten up for getting an A on a test. And so on... These stories are powerful and they aren't made up. You can hear it in the voices of these working people who came to testify. They want very badly to support public schools; they believe in education with a religious fervor. But the public schools -- for whatever reasons -- failed them.

I don't think vouchers are the answer. There is no doubt they would siphon funds from the public schools that most desperately need them. But no one can deny that there are schools that are failing. I'm not talking about test scores here. I'm talking about basic safety, about an environment that you would feel good about sending your child to.

This blog is about "education, politics and the intersection of the two," so here's the point: Republicans are going to use vouchers with increasing regularity in the very near future to garner support in Latino and African-American communities. They're already doing it and they're going to do it more. For Democrats to simply say that public schools need more money won't cut it-- even if it is true.

If there's one thing we must have learned from the past presidential election it's that, in politics, truth is important, but perception is essential. If the public perceives that Republicans are the innovators on education -- right or wrong -- they're going to win that issue.

Democrats should embrace public school choice. Encourage charter school development with increased financial accountability and scrutiny. Encourage charters run not by for-profit corporations but by principals, teachers, and counselors who are fed up with public school bureaucracy. Give them a chance to run smaller, more human (and more efficient) public schools. Keep religion out. Keep profiteers out.

Look, this is simple. There will be choice in public education. There's a real public demand for it. The question is: Will it be done on their terms, or on ours?

(For more on the voucher hubbub, click here, here, or here).


Blogger Jonathan Kallay said...

A great angle. Support charter schools as a preferable alternative to vouchers.

10:03 AM  
Blogger Joe Thomas said...

Parents do not want choice. Your ideas are right on the money until that word popped up.

Parents want strong (and safe) public schools which are accountable to them and that provide the best opportunities for their children.

Charters that "work" merely have smaller class sizes and more involved parents.

Can we not duplicate that inside our public schools?

I think we can.

It is not about choice. Choice, competition and the education marketplace are words the conservatives need us to adopt for their attack on public education to succeeed.

4:56 PM  
Blogger Kimberly said...

I think of something Paul Burka said. He said that public schools work as long as your child is smart, reasonably motivated and can follow rules. If you miss even one of those three... public ed is often the pits. I do think we have to think about what we do for those children, the ones who aren't motivated by public school... Why?

6:56 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Another point--

I think one thing Democrats need to attend to, which was brought out by some of that testimony, is school size and safety.

Democrats can propose to maintain smaller class sizes, suggest a newer model of smaller schools and schools within schools, propose increasing the number of other words, make positive proposals and establish a platform that would lead to safer schools.

6:17 AM  

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