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Editorial: On public vs. private school and the resistance

Chacham (981) writes | more than 9 years ago

User Journal 12

Fox News is carrying an editorial by Wendy McElroy of IFeminists.com (also avialable there), entitled, "The Separation of School and State". Interesting thoughts on whether schools are needed at all, and if so, what type. Certainly not

Fox News is carrying an editorial by Wendy McElroy of IFeminists.com (also avialable there), entitled, "The Separation of School and State". Interesting thoughts on whether schools are needed at all, and if so, what type. Certainly not the entire issue, but challenging some general assumptions.

In the wake of a fatal shooting, the security for a D.C. high school was officially turned over to the city's police department last week. Armed officers will patrol the halls.

This is one more indication of the severe problems haunting the public school system: violence, illegal drugs, the mandating of medication such as Ritalin, low academic achievement, controversial curricula, perceived prejudice against boys.

Parents who wish to explore educational alternatives at their own expense should be encouraged to do so, yet the opposite is occurring. Advocates of public schooling view other systems of education as threats to be regulated, discouraged and sometimes demonized. (Often the income and careers of these advocates depend upon the continued tax funding of public schools.)

Is there any validity to their criticism of educational alternatives?

Two of the most viable ones are homeschooling and apprenticeships. Neither prevents anyone from choosing public schools; each merely offers a choice at no public expense. How could anyone reasonably object to that?

One objection comes from the assumption that public schools are necessary for children to become literate. The assumption is unfounded. Prior to the spread of public education in the early 1900s, literacy rates in America were amazingly high. A much-quoted estimate comes from a book written in 1812 at the behest of Thomas Jefferson. The French statesman Pierre Samuel DuPont de Nemours, who emigrated to America, declared of young Americans, "Not more than four in a thousand are unable to write legibly, even neatly."

Other sources also attest to high literacy rates prior to the 1900s, a literacy that arose largely from homeschooling.

Pointing to the past is unnecessary. Today homeschooled students often perform better on standardized tests than those from public schools. In 2001, for example, homeschooled SAT-takers averaged 568 on the verbal test and 525 on the math; the national average was 506 on verbal and 514 on math.

Moreover, nations that actively encourage apprenticeship programs such as Germany and Switzerland enjoy very high literacy. Clearly, public schools are not a necessary path to that social goal.

Two additional criticisms of educational alternatives are common.

First, alternatives weaken the public school system; and second, they harm children.

The first argument assumes that dissenting parents should support and strengthen a social institution they believe damages their children. Their "social obligations" are placed in conflict with their parental responsibilities. No such conflict exists. Parents who use their own judgment and money in educating their children deprive no other parent of that same right. If public schools, with all their advantages, cannot compete with free market options, then they deserve to weaken because children deserve better.

The second criticism is that educational alternatives harm children.

In the '80s, when homeschooling appeared on the social radar, it was closely associated with the Religious Right. Homeschoolers were viewed as extremists and unqualified amateurs. As homeschooling entered the mainstream and a generation of homeschooled children scored well on tests, public suspicion faded.

The accusation of harm shifted. Homeschooling is now said to mask child abuse. This was the message clearly implied by an Oct. 14 CBS News two-part report entitled "A Dark Side to Homeschooling." The report created a furor of protest in the homeschooling community; it also encouraged politicians to call for anti-homeschooling legislation.

Conservative columnist Michelle Malkin examined a push for legislation in New Jersey. Four adopted boys were found to be starving although child welfare officials claimed to have visited the home no fewer than 38 times. Rather than condemn the bureaucracy, politicians blamed the fact that the foster parents had homeschooled. Thus, all New Jersey homeschoolers may be subjected to indignities like criminal background checks and obstacles like health regulations more stringent than those imposed on public schools.

Malkin concluded, "God forbid children be taught by their own parents without oversight from the all-knowing, all-caring, infallible ... child welfare-public school monopoly!"

With apprenticeships, the concept of harm often draws upon the specter of "child labor" even though modern apprenticeships bear no resemblance to the 19th century images that arise at the sound of that term. Apprentices entering programs in the U.S., for instance, must be at least 16 years old. Moreover, apprenticeship as alternative education was established as a matter of parental and religious liberty by the court case Wisconsin v. Yoder (1972).

The case addressed the Amish and Mennonite tradition by which children were employed from age 14 to 16 on the family farm or in a family occupation, like carpentry, instead of going to school as the law usually requires. The court found that such employment did not constitute harm. Today, these apprenticeships remain a de facto exception to child labor laws and open the door to other exceptions.

My purpose is not to dispute with parents who send their children to public schools. I believe the system is a brutal failure, but parents must decide for themselves. I advocate extending alternatives far beyond the typical private versus public school debate, and even beyond homeschooling.

Apprenticeships, experiments like Montessori and the School of Living, self-guided education, mentoring ... The cost of public education is not measured in tax dollars alone. A universe of educational possibilities has been obstructed by the attempt to enforce a government monopoly over how, where, when, and what children learn.

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12 comments

Don't forget... (1)

On Lawn (1073) | more than 10 years ago | (#8426952)


They do not like Charter schools, religious schools and really anything but state run schools. Not even if the state pays them to go to them.

When you look at the opposition to these you find one simple rule. The Teacher Unions as well as text book industries love their lock in with state money *and* captive audience for their agendas. They do and will continue to fight tooth and nail to keep from losing either.

Re:Don't forget... (1)

Chacham (981) | more than 10 years ago | (#8428280)

Yeah, gues they're coming at it from all sides.

The only thing the article fails to mention... (2, Interesting)

Trolling4Dollars (627073) | more than 10 years ago | (#8427714)

...is that for a large part of the population, private schooling is out of reach financially. Many of us, also don't have the luxury of home schooling because both incomes are needed. And finally, home schooling implies that the parents (or the tutor they pay) are actually competent in all relevant subjects.

In my situation, home schooling and private schooling are out. My wife and I can't afford a decent public school (ie. not affiliated with religious interests) and neither of us are qualified to teach a child at home. My wife's math skills would probably only carry through to about the 3rd or 4th grade level and I *might* be able to help the kid through to middle school. But, I work all day so the kid's math lessons with me would have to be post 6:00PM. Not exactly convenient or useful. My wife has no scientific interest and teaching the kid about science would probably be up to me again. What the kid would learn from my wife would be history and literature, maybe the arts. Music would fall to me. Relgion? Well, let's just say religion is a dead end and intended for narrow, unoriginal minds. I think this is the largest reason some people home school. They want to "protect" their children from the evils of sex education and the THEORY of evolution.

I went to a private religious school and was actually BEHIND the curve when I transferred out to public school in the 7th grade. Trust me... if I didn't transfer out, there would have been a Columbine style incident at the private school I attended. The children there were so full of hate and the teachers and administrators all sided with them. Maybe it was the fact the my skin color (Latin American kid here) was a little different from theirs, who knows? What I do know is that I was abused daily by my classmates and had no protection or recourse. In fact, most of the time *I* was the one who got in trouble because the teachers seemed prejudiced against me. That school is only one reason why I despise religious people. Getting back to the academic side of things, the private school stunted my math development by teaching us math at a much slower pace. By the time I transferred out of the private school, I had just finished learning multiplication, division and fractions. When I got to public school, the kids were already on pre-algebra. I was lost and did poorly in math ever since.

Getting back to what I was saying about the article... Unless I get real lucky and land a job that pays me $80,000 or more a year, I can't afford to send the kid to private school. I'd also have to find a private school that emphasized science and intellect (with a leftist bent) and didn't have any religious affiliation before I'd even consider sending the kid to private school. Neither of those things are likely to happen any time soon. If I can convince my employer that I'm more valuable to them from 1:00PM to 9:00PM, then MAYBE I can do some home schooling from 7:00AM-12:00PM. But how realistic is that? I'd prefer to be home with my kid during peak hours (6:00-10:00PM) anyway. We also need the second income because even though I make pretty good money (in my opinion $50,000 is pretty good money, but it's not up to what most Slashdotters feel is good money) it's not enough to pay for three people in every conceivable way and keep us from having any debts. (My wife and I are incredibly resistant to loans and credit. We pay for everything in cash if we can. If we can't then we just skip things becaus if you can't pay for it in cash, it's unlikely you need it. And we don't believe in debt other than the house payment and maybe a car or two.) I'd like to have some private time with my wife occasionally. So home schooling is NOT an option.

Private school and home schooling is only an option for the upper middle class or the religious nut who doesn't want their kid "tainted" by the real world.

Re:The only thing the article fails to mention... (1)

Chacham (981) | more than 10 years ago | (#8428804)

private schooling is out of reach financially.

This is true.

Let's look at it a bit more objectively. Where i live, the cost per student at a nearby public school was something like nine-thousand dollars. At a local private school, it was five-thousand. Still, the private school costs more because it is not subsidized.

Public schools are subsidized because they are accepted as the norm. Private schools are not. If, however, private schools would be subsidized, the people would benefit by having another school system, and the state (and ultimately ther people) would save a good deal of money due to the lower tuition costs.

Currently, everyone with property pays school tax. They are then divided into three basic subgroups. The first group is of those who send their kids to public school, the second is of those send their kids to private school, and the third is of people who do not send their kids to school.

Personally, i think that the taxes collected from the first group should obviously go to the public school (not the system, but the actual school). The second group's taxes should go to the private school. The third group should have a choice.

Currently, the system makes *everyone* pay for public schools. For those who send their kids to private schools i consider that akin to double taxation. And for the strongly religous, i consider it a form of religous oppression that they are forced to support that which they consider to be detrimental.

With all that, i have a problem with someone saying that private schools are more expensive. Most are not. They merely are at a great diadvantage due to the coercion by the public-school crowd.

it mistates the counter argument (1)

memfree (227515) | more than 10 years ago | (#8434128)

My mom, a school teacher, sees it like this:
1) There's nothing wrong with parents choosing to take their kids out of public schools *IFF* they pay for it themselves.
2) Any time tax dollars are diverted from public schools to fund private schools and/or home schools, then, yes, it does hurt public schools -- as does cutting funding for any other reason.
3) In her state, home-schooled children must take state-run proficiency tests, and must re-enter public schools if they fail to pass (assuming the children are 'normal' -- I gather there are special considerations for the developmentally challenged). Therefore, she has no complaint with what is taught.
4) Home schooled kids can develop social skills at least as easily as kids in public schools if there is an effort to socialize them.

I've never heard my mom complain or worry about home-schoolers getting abused, but it's my opinion that public schools are a bad means of determining abuse, anyway.

To me, the important part of my mom's position is: who pays? Since the state has to fund public education, it should do a better job of making public schools work. Yes, there *should* be more and better ways to complain and fix failing schools, but the voucher/free-market fix I hear most often would essential penalize problem schools by diverting taxes to alternative schooling methods -- and I don't see how that could *improve* problem schools ... especially given that such schools are too often in problem neighborhoods where alternatives might not be readuily visible.

caveat : I'm of the opinion that it is in society's interest to educate its future work force so our economy will stay strong, and we'd get dragged down by an over abundance of uneducated people.

Re:it mistates the counter argument (1)

Chacham (981) | more than 10 years ago | (#8436446)

but the voucher/free-market fix I hear most often would essential penalize problem schools by diverting taxes to alternative schooling methods

I think the money these people pay in scool tax should be diverted to where their kids are actually going to school.

Re:it mistates the counter argument (1)

memfree (227515) | more than 10 years ago | (#8439629)

how does their original school get better when you cut the amount of money it can spend?

Re:it mistates the counter argument (1)

Chacham (981) | more than 10 years ago | (#8439784)

how does their original school get better when you cut the amount of money it can spend?

It doesn't. Well, at least not directly, but that is not the point.

The US is keen on education, not neccesarily on public schools. That is, if everyone went to the private school of their choice, as long as everyone could read and write at the end of the day, we'd all be just as happy.

Therefore, the question is not how the school gets better, rather, how the education gets better. And for that, the statistics show that on average private-schooled children do at least as well as average public-schooled children, and that the family is obviously happier with their choice.

So, i can even ask your question the oposite way around. How does this child's education benefit by giving money to a school that he does not attend?

Re:it mistates the counter argument (1)

Jaguar777 (189036) | more than 10 years ago | (#8440556)

how does their original school get better when you cut the amount of money it can spend?

Maybe I can help you understand this from my perspective. I went to a single private school for my entire pre-k through 12th grade education. My father did not make a lot of money, but he worked overtime at the mill whenever he could so they could afford to send me to a school of their choice. For 14 years my parents paid taxes to a local public school for an education I never received from it. If they would have been allowed to keep that money, and put it towards tuition at the private school life would have been easier for my family.

I do not see it as "cutting" the amount of money a public school gets, but instead placing the parents money with their own childs education.

Plus, since private schools on average spends 45% less per student than public schools the credited money is getting stretched further to do more than it would at a public school.

I did take a Drivers Ed course once at my public school during the summer, but my parents had to pay a few hundred for it ;)

Re:it mistates the counter argument (1)

memfree (227515) | more than 10 years ago | (#8445516)

You are one of the lucky kids whose parents not only cared about education, but cared so much that they demonstrated it to you with personal involvement and sacrifice. Almost all alternatively educated kids start with a similar advantage of parental involvement -- and it *is* an advantage ( see ERIC digest [ericfacility.net] for article's citations, or NWrel.org [nwrel.org] or interpret the NELS:88 [ed.gov] data or other data as you desire ).

Combine that parental commitment with the fact that private schools can pick and choose which kids to accept, and it seems logical that such a restricted subset of students might score better than the masses.

Still -- and not to be nit-picky, but... can you cite that "45% less per student" figure?

I looked for it, but only found contrary indicators like these:
1) ATF is, of course, against vouchers, but here are quotes from one of their pages [aft.org]
A) "Other, and non-Catholic private schools spend 38 percent more that hand high-performance privates schools spend 131% more that public schools." and
B) "The fact that Catholic schools cost differ from those in other types of private schools may reflect lower teacher salaries and greater in-kind subsidies (including faculties) from the Catholic church."

2) MathGuide.com [mathguide.com] has this article on the issue with pros and cons.

3) A school district paper [k12.mn.us] including services private schools need not have but this district is legally required to have. The costs include: 'special ed.', bussing, paying for private schools to participate in Titles I, II, and V programs. It also notes that public schools must hire certified teachers while private schools are not restricted by that.

Other stuff:
- Someone's take on Parental involvement [towson.edu]
- PDF Brief [sedl.org] from SEDL on same.
- Big PDF [sedl.org] from SEDL with details on many studies, their methodologies, and flaws. I found it interesting that the idea of "parental involvement" generally meant one thing to middle-class white folks, but meant a variety of things to other groups. To the point, it looked like non-white, poor kids were less helped by strategies that worked for white, middle-class kids -- but that flawed research kept the authors from making a definitive statement on that (though they did find space to suggest that marginalized groups tended to be more suspicious of school authorities where the 'norms' were more likely to believe whatever schools said).

Re:it mistates the counter argument (1)

Jaguar777 (189036) | more than 10 years ago | (#8455073)

Thanks for the excellent reply. I enjoyed reading those links.

You are one of the lucky kids whose parents not only cared about education, but cared so much that they demonstrated it to you with personal involvement and sacrifice. Almost all alternatively educated kids start with a similar advantage of parental involvement -- and it *is* an advantage ( see ERIC digest for article's citations, or NWrel.org or interpret the NELS:88 data or other data as you desire ).

Combine that parental commitment with the fact that private schools can pick and choose which kids to accept, and it seems logical that such a restricted subset of students might score better than the masses.


I agree parental involvement increases the childs advantage. I would even go as far to say a lack of parental involvement puts most children at a severe disadvantage. In my personal experience the school administration did as much as they could to promote and ask for parental involvement.

It is true that schools can pick and choose which kids to accept, but in my experience it was never based on what kind of grades the student had. Most private schools are growing/struggling institutions and take in all the students they can get. Speaking from personal experience, yet again, my school often took in students that had been kicked out of other schools, or required tuition assistance to afford the education. That doesn't sound like a school picking and choosing based on the merit of grades. I realize not all schools are this way, but I would hope that most are.

I believe you are correct that higher scores can be the result of more parental involvement, but I don't think selective enrollment based on grades is a major factor.

Still -- and not to be nit-picky, but... can you cite that "45% less per student" figure?

Heh.. I got that by comparing the figures in a earlier post in this thread. Its weird, but I can't find it anymore. It mentioned 9,000 for public and 5,000 for private on average. I just used those numbers(real scientific huh?). I just added that on to my post as an afterthought. I really shouldn't have because it took away from the main point of my post that the ideal way to handle a parents tax money that goes to education is to have it follow the student to whatever school he may go to.

I have found some concrete numbers for the public schools here [ed.gov] .
I don't know where to find averages for private schools, but I do know my tuition was significantly less than the public schools as compared to the table above. I do admit that the private school had advantages as it shared buildings with a church, and paid the teachers less.
So disregard the 40% unless you count a slashdot post as a significant source of information ;)

I did find this interesting article [buckeyeinstitute.org] today.

I still think at least the parents taxes for education should follow the child. The rest of the money from other state/gov taxes is up for debate on whether it should be included in a "voucher" or not.

ok. I'm tired of typing. I have been coming back and forth to this post all day(busy at work).

Re:it mistates the counter argument (1)

memfree (227515) | more than 10 years ago | (#8464259)

Well thanks for *reading* my reply! I appreciate this sort of conversation where it is more debate than argument.

We certainly need some means of fixing bad schools, and yes, all I'm doing is shooting down one plan without offering another solution. *I* don't have any better suggestions that make more sense than vouchers, but I feel it's important to get as full a view as possible before supporting any change.

I fear that if the standard voucher plan to just give X dollars per kid would funnel off the most likely to succeed and leave bad public schools with the difficult kids (there are good public schools, but they'd have less attrition). I gotta complain about any plan where public schools are stuck with kids that either require expensive special care (deaf, autistic, etc.) or atypically prone to do badly at standard tests ( mentally/emotionally challenged kids, kids with hyper-stressed homes, non-English speakers, etc.).

If someone worked out a plan for preventing that sort of thing I'd support vouchers ... which would probably mean no one else would because it'd be some complicated, hard-to-explain solution that'd be labeled bureaucratic and never get implemented.

Side note: I read your links, too. I support the idea of rewarding good teachers/schools, just not the current suggestion on how to do that. The cost table made me wonder about what services are now mandated that schools never used to provide. Ex. We don't send retarded kids sent to asylums anymore.
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