Now that the school year is well under way, our educational system is once again being scrutinized. The cartoon above, sent to me by an educator, has been circulating around the internet demonstrating how, once again, many people believe that the educational system in the United States is sick and the cause of many of the ills which are befalling the country, e.g. inner city crime, unemployment, unskilled workers and a poor work ethic, a struggling economy, a large welfare system, etc. And of course the public and private sectors are each other’s throats trying to blame each other for the failing educational system. Applying the credo that “all men are created equal”, the the Public School system tries to promote a standardized educational system so that all students have access to the same high quality education. And the private school system keeps complaining about the lack of competition and entrepreneurship in Public Schools. We are now holding teachers accountable for the low success rate of many students especially in low income areas. But do we really want to privatize education? This problem was brought to my attention recently by David Brooks, a New York Times columnist who wrote an editorial entitled “Look Beyond The Report Card“. He writes: “…The results show that, in general, schools in more affluent communities perform better than those in poorer neighborhoods. No matter who’s responsible – whether it’s parents who supposedly don’t value education or teachers who have low expectations for students – it’s reasonable to conclude that creating jobs and improving conditions in those neighborhoods would help boost school performance. Social problems tend to be interconnected; solutions to those problems do, too.”
The source of this speculation probably stems from a book written by a Harvard Sociologist, William Julius Wilson in 1987 called The Truly Disadvantaged. In his book, Wilson points out that if kids grow up in an underprivileged setting without healthcare, a safe environment and a solid school system, they will perpetuate the poverty and social inequalities (crime, illiteracy, dysfunctional families, etc. ) that they have suffered from for generations.
Because of the enduring economic crisis and a growing number of people who just can’t seem to extricate themselves from the quicksand of poverty, two other sociologists have recently published two new books which substantiate many of Wilson’s beliefs and go beyond the scope of urban decay and a lack of opportunity in underprivileged areas. The first, published in 2012 by the University of Chicago Press, is Robert Sampson’s Great American City: Chicago and the Enduring Neighborhood Effect. Robert Sampson is an imminent professor of sociology at Harvard University who has done extensive research conducted with Stephen Raudenbush and Patrick Sharkey into the influence of “place” on people’s lives. Sampson points out that not only can a socially disadvantaged environment harm a child’s basic well-being, but it can also hamper a child’s capacity to learn and even to re-adapt to a new more prosperous environment. He contends that a child who grows up in a poor neighborhood acquires a learning disability and will have a hard time catching up to other children of the same age in reading, writing, science and math. He writes that this handicap is “roughly equivalent to missing a year of schooling.”
The second book, Stuck in Place: Urban Neighborhoods and the End of Progress Toward Racial Equality, published in April in Chicago, Patrick Sharkey sets out on his own to exploit 4 decades worth of data to demonstrate how neighborhood social inequality and lack of opportunity can lock generations in the same downward spiral. Sharkey, an associate professor of sociology at New York University, writes that “over 70 percent of African-Americans who live in today’s poorest, most racially segregated neighborhoods are from the same families that lived in the ghettos of the 1970s.” In other words, “the American ghetto appears to be inherited”—an observation that has implications in how we organize our educational system and provide the same standards to all citizens.One solution that Americans are trying is transforming schools into small businesses in the form of “Charter Schools” which compete with one another and strive to satisfy their students’ individual needs (and those of their parents!) who consequently are considered more like “customers”.
Thus Charter Schools are special schools which are set up to solve some of the problems encountered in inner cities schools located in underprivileged districts. They are operated privately but receive public funding to pay for their teachers and administration. They are judged on the success of their students and funding is stopped if test scores do not show improvement in the core subjects or if their graduation rate falls short. To achieve good results, many schools apply strict discipline and make students wear uniforms to break down social and economic barriers. Although making up only 6% of the schools nationwide, the question most people are asking themselves is: do these “privately run” schools work better than “publicly run” schools in reaching their objectives of academic excellence?
In a recent study conducted by the Center for Research on Educational Outcomes at Stanford University, researchers found that charter schools perform better than public schools in educating low income students, minority students, and immigrant students who do not yet master the English language. The Stanford University researchers also found that children who attend charter schools have higher test scores and graduate from high school in higher numbers than their traditional public school peers. In addition to having a higher graduation rate than public schools, dozens of charter schools across the country have a 100 percent college acceptance rate for graduating seniors proving that they prepare their students better for college than public schools . Proof that competition is a great motivator! Now we just have to convince the teaching unions and principals…
A Litmus test for schools according to David Brooks:
Do teachers and administrators engage their students, encouraging them and hold them accountable when needed?
Do students show advancing mastery of and interest in crucial subjects like reading, writing, math and science?
Does the school promote critical thinking as well as memorization and test-taking skills?