School Choice

In the controversy over my school’s future building site and Fulton County Schools, the divide over public versus private schools was outlined starkly in the AJC’s reader blog over Weber’s brush with eminent domain. Very early on in the discussion, posters began to veer away from the topic at hand and debate very nastily over whether public schools or private schools are better and why. I think the blog is an interesting microscope of many issues we’ve all discussed in the education blogosphere.

I teach at a private school, but my background in education is mostly in the public schools — 6 years in total. For the last two, I’ve been teaching in a private school. I think private schools can be like any other schools — there are good ones and not so good ones. The school where I work happens to be a good one. At the same time, the public schools in my area have very good reputations.

However…

If I could afford to send my daughter to a private school like the one where I work, I probably would. I happen to make too much money for us to qualify for scholarships, but too little to afford private school tuition.

I have no broad condemnation of public schools. I can’t even bring myself to vote for Libertarian candidates because of the Libertarian platform on education.

So why do I feel this way?

I think that’s a question worth examining.

  1. Smaller class sizes at my private school mean students receive more individual attention.
  2. A marked difference in the number of discipline issues.
  3. I can’t say if this is always true, but my experience so far has been that private school teachers are more satisfied with their work environments. Any teachers reading this blog probably realize morale is very important in making good schools.
  4. Private schools are not inundated with testing. No CRCT. No ITBS. No state graduation tests. No “gateway” tests. With all that testing out, I’m able to have more hours in the classroom to really teach, and not to teach to some standardized test.

I would be remiss if I didn’t point out that private school teachers are less likely to be certified. In fact, some of my own colleagues are not. However, they are also brilliant, gifted teachers. While my salary is competitve, I have heard that some private school teachers do not earn the same as their peers in public schools.

With NCLB, school choice is once again a hot topic. Indeed, parents are allowed the option of transferring their children out of schools which fail to make AYP. I have to say that I am very conscious that I am delivering a product that parents pay a lot of money for. I think I was as good a teacher in public school (or tried to be — I didn’t always have the necessary support from parents or administration) as I am in private school. However, I am very conscious that parents do not have to send their child to my school. They have chosen to do so. I can’t say I feel more obligation necessarily so much as a different obligation. After having said that, maybe I do feel more obligation to my students and their parents, if I am to be completely honest with myself.

Do I believe in school vouchers? I just can’t go that far. I don’t think students are entitled to a private school education. And it isn’t just the wealthy upper class who send their children to private schools. Middle class families, poorer families send their children, too. I was surprised to discover how many private schools had financial assistance for families when I began researching possible schools for my daughter over the summer. I believe all Americans are entitled to a free, public education, and they receive that under our current education system. I am starting to wonder, however, what sort of changes will be wrought in public education if parents were allowed to send their children to the public school of their choice, and not just because the school failed to make AYP. What would our public schools look like? Where would the line between public and private be?

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2 thoughts on “School Choice

  1. Then why not just track entire public schools and give most of the public school going public the same benefits of private education? If happier teachers and fewer discipline problems are the issue then put all of the discipline problems in the same school and put the children who really want to learn in another school.

  2. Tracking is way out of fashion in public schools. I couldn't tell you when it happened, but some time in the last 30 years, we began to be more concerned about self-esteem than pitching education at the right level for student comprehension. As to the second scenario, who exactly is going to teach at that school? No one is ever going to want that job, and those children will fall through the cracks, which is exactly what NCLB says they're all about preventing. The real solution is even harder. How do we get parents to do what they're supposed to do at home?

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