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My two children, ages 14 and 11, attend their local public schools, and have since kindergarten. Why do I send my children to public schools?

1. Public schools work. Every year, millions of American children graduate from public schools across the country, having completed the toughest curricula in our nation's history, surpassing standards that get tougher by the year. In our public schools, students can learn calculus, analyze complex themes by Nobel Prize-winning authors, study advanced chemistry, biology and physics, program computers, and perform music and dance in international competitions in front of crowds of thousands. Every year, public school students learn, graduate and go on to the world's best colleges and the world's most competitive jobs.

But what about all those news stories about bad test scores and failing schools? Aren't many kids falling behind?

It's true that we've got a huge gap between students in our country - one that grows with each grade level as kids advance from kindergarten into high school. But that's not because we have an education problem in America. It's because we have a large, and growing, child poverty problem in our country.

The children whose parents can afford to send them to school with money for lunch, and who have the ability to help them with their increasingly difficult homework at night, typically thrive in the public schools, as they always have. But those aren't the majority of kids anymore in many districts.

If public education were broken, and our schools no longer had the ability to teach, then why is it you never find any of these "broken" schools in affluent communities? I wrote about this issue last spring, when I showed how the schools in my hometown of Pasadena, California were out-performing the California average in all major demographic categories - white, black and Latino, poor and non-poor - but the district's overall test score average was below the state average because the Pasadena schools have a far above-average percentage of economically-disadvantaged children attending them.

When we raise academic standards and increase homework requirements, we widen the gap between students whose parents studied algebra, geometry and calculus - and can help them with that homework - and those who don't have parents like that, or any parent at home, to help them.

Yet even students facing immense home challenges - single parents, foster care, parents working multiple jobs who are rarely home, parents who can't speak English or who didn't complete school themselves - are still learning and advancing in our public schools, even if they continue to trail those students who have the advantage of living with educated parents who earn a living wage, or better. Test scores in all socio-economic categories continue to rise in our country. Our public school teachers are doing their jobs. Our schools just need more teachers, and more resources to help close the gap between those children whose birth gave them a head start - like my kids - and those whose birth didn't.

2. Private schools aren't inherently better.

A University of Illinois study, published in the American Journal of Education, found that public school students scored just as well in math as students attending private schools, when you compared students of similar ethnic and economic backgrounds. The study followed earlier research that showed public school students scored slightly better (though within the margin of error) than private school students in the same income and ethnic demographic.

One of the ways that many private schools portray themselves as superior options to public schools is by cherry-picking the students they admit. It's easy to show off students with high test scores and impressive academic achievements when you admit only the students who are inclined - through family support and personal initiative - to score and perform well.

What the University of Illinois research did is to make an apples-to-apples comparison which showed that similar students do just as well or better in a public school environment than in private schools.

I don't want to talk anyone out of attending a private school, if that's your choice and you can afford it. But I do want to talk you out of believing that you have to choose a private school, if you want the best for your children's education. Your child can get an excellent education in the public schools, just as millions of other are getting. The data proves it!

3. Public school students score better than charter school students.

Many politicians, including education officials in the Obama administration, are pushing charter schools as a superior alternative to traditional public schools, which are accountable to the local community through elected school boards. Charter schools don't have to follow the same rules as public schools, and the idea is that greater freedom flexibility allows them to succeed.

Except that they don't. A Stanford University study found that students at charter schools were more likely to score worse than public schools students than they were to outperform those students - 37% percent of charter schools did worse than comparable public schools, while only 17% did better. The rest, 46%, scored the same.

So, if you are a parent who picks a charter school over a public school, you're more likely to end up worse off than going to your local public school than you are to end up in a better-performing school.

4. Public schools are for everyone.

Public schools have to serve every child in a community. They don't get to cherry-pick only the brightest or wealthiest students. And that's a large part of their appeal to me. Attend a public school, and you're getting to know people from every corner of your community, not just people of the same religion or social class. In public school, you're part of the, well, public.

Public education offers every child in the community a chance at an education. While too many children remain limited in their ability to take full advantage of that opportunity due to circumstances at home, it's important to me - and ought to be important to you - that those opportunities remain available to all. Education ought to be about lifting up, not weeding out. Without a free, public education system open to all, those who are born without money and power never will have a chance to make their lives better by developing new knowledge and skills.

5. Public schools are under attack.

So public schools work, they teach as well or better than private schools, and better than charters. They're open to all and helping children from all races, ethnicities and economic classes. So why are so many stories and people so negative about public schools?

Here's my theory: Public schools are run by the government. They're the place where more people have more contact with government employees on a daily basis than any other public institution. Public school teachers are almost always members of labor unions, too.

So if you believe that government can't do anything right, or if you believe that people are better off without labor unions representing them, a successful public school system doesn't help you make your case, does it?

If you're a business leader and want to distract people from the fact that more Americans are slipping out of the middle class even as you and your colleagues are getting richer than ever, how convenient would it be to fund foundations and contribute to politicians who will blame poor test scores in the hardest-hit communities on failing schools, instead of the growing child poverty problem that's causing them?

Don't fall for their stories. The facts show that public education works. Teachers are doing their jobs, even as society makes it harder and harder for them. We should be rewarding our public school teachers with the extra help, recognition and, yes, pay they deserve.

Here's how you can help: Thank a teacher instead of trashing them. Offer to volunteer or contribute to a local school. If your school district is asking for a bond issue or parcel tax, vote yes. They need the money.

Don't sign petitions asking to transfer control of local schools from school boards elected by parents to private companies accountable to no one in the community. If you choose to send your children to private schools or to homeschool, that's fine, but please don't tell other people that their children can't get a good education in the public schools.

I'm sending my children to public schools because I don't believe in the people who are attacking our public schools. Sending my children to public schools is the ultimate sign of support, and helps keep me more deeply involved in a precious public resource that needs, and deserves, our support.

Public schools work - for my children and the children of our community. That's why I send my children to public schools, and I encourage other parents to do the same.

This diary also appears on sensibletalk.com.

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Comment Preferences

  •  All three of my kids attended public schools. (4+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    susanala, malharden, Neon Mama, PSzymeczek

    All three also attended/are attending some pretty good colleges/universities (2 of which are also public). I paid for public schools, so why would I shell out more money (that I do not have) to send my children to some private school that limits the diversity of backgrounds/ideas/cultures etc that my children are exposed to. That, in itself, is a priceless form of education.

    A society grows great when old men plant trees in whose shade they know they shall never sit. - Greek proverb

    by marleycat on Sun Oct 09, 2011 at 10:48:40 AM PDT

  •  I was part of a conversation with two (5+ / 0-)

    people that were discussing public schools in affluent areas and your know what the consensus was....that affluent public schools are actually a form of private school.  They are so heavily subsidized by parents that they are public in name only.  Our public schools in our poorest communities ARE our public schools.  "Public" schools in affluent communities are a hybrid and not our traditional public school model.

    •  This is true but... (3+ / 0-)

      ...I have a hard time arguing that this is a bad thing.

      Here in the DC area there are many families where only one parent needs to work. The other parent (usually Mom) is available for the PTA and hey rotate through the schools as unpaid teachers aides.

      This only bothers me when they make my wife feel bad because as a working mother she doesn't have the flexibility to do this. But, we do appreciate the fact that someone is doing it.

      "I'm very important. I have many leather-bound books and my apartment smells of rich mahogany." - Ron Burgundy

      by malharden on Sun Oct 09, 2011 at 11:55:50 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  I actually think it is a bad thing, it makes us (0+ / 0-)

        unlikely as a society to make things equal for children whose parents who are not so fortunate.  It allows us to ignore them and pretend that our public schools are working when they are really terribly inadequate for everyone that does not live in an affluent community.

        •  Correlation / Causality (1+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          Melanie in IA

          I see where you are going, but I think that argument makes it sound like people pitching in to help the schools is one of the causes of school underfunding.

          I think there's a correlation -- "wealthy" families who can volunteer since one parent isn't working might also tend to be more republican -- but I'm not positive this volunteerism is the root cause of the problem.

          "I'm very important. I have many leather-bound books and my apartment smells of rich mahogany." - Ron Burgundy

          by malharden on Sun Oct 09, 2011 at 12:37:30 PM PDT

          [ Parent ]

          •  The root cause of the problem is the wealthy (1+ / 0-)
            Recommended by:
            ladybug53

            being able to disassociate their lives and children from the problem.so  then they can claim that public schools still do a "great" job of educating this nation's children.  "Their" schools do a good job because they can afford the extra funding themselves, the publicly funded education system cannot.  The same is true of our public universities which in many places are no longer publicly funded, we all just pretend(CA universities receive very little public money which make them for all intents and purposes private institutions).

    •  There's a real disparity in schools, since (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      ManhattanMan, Melanie in IA

      we've made schools a local funding and governance issue, and (not by coincidence) are geographically separated into areas of different wealth and income and education.

      Inland: A privately held corporation spun off from the Womb Division of MomCo a half century or so ago.

      by Inland on Sun Oct 09, 2011 at 12:04:42 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

  •  I have sent my kids to public schools (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    malharden, Melanie in IA

    for many reasons, mostly because we are fortunate to live in a pretty good school district.   Another big reason is that the only private school in our area are Catholic schools.  I was subjected to Catholic schools as a kid;  my kids would attend them only over my dead body.

    Turn your face to the sun and the shadows fall behind you.

    by chicago minx on Sun Oct 09, 2011 at 11:15:41 AM PDT

  •  Although I spent my entire (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    smrichmond, Melanie in IA

    academic life, as student and teacher, in parochial schools, I am a strong supporter of public schools.  Were I live, all the schools work together to make sure kids get what they need.  Kids come from public to private or move the other way.  No matter which, parents, teachers, and administrators do what it takes to make it work.  I know that this is not the case in many areas.  Increasingly, it's become more about the systems than the kids, but wherever the focus is on children, the schools will get it right.

    -7.62, -7.28 "Hold fast to dreams, for if dreams die, life is a broken winged bird that cannot fly." -Langston Hughes

    by luckylizard on Sun Oct 09, 2011 at 11:46:20 AM PDT

  •  Here in the hated DC-area... (0+ / 0-)

    ...most of our Public Schools freaking rock. Don't like the one in your zone? Transfer your kid to the next nearest one and drop him off on your way to work in the morning. No biggie.

    (And, I'm a product of NYC public schools, the #1 public school district in the country.)

    "I'm very important. I have many leather-bound books and my apartment smells of rich mahogany." - Ron Burgundy

    by malharden on Sun Oct 09, 2011 at 11:52:49 AM PDT

  •  We really need a recX1000 button (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Neon Mama, PSzymeczek

    I'll admit up front I don't have kids. But I've always thought that my public school experience is the reason I'm not a teapublican like most of my family.

    I started school in Jefferson County, Alabama, just a few years post-integration. The area was unincorporated at the time and not homogenized like the "white flight" suburbs.

    Children from previously segregated neighborhoods right next to each other really did go to school together. The schools were the newer and nicer facilities, with room for expansion, that had previously been whites-only.

    So different families had different skin colors, sometimes more than one per family. Parents wore different colored collars to work and had different levels of education and income. Some families did not include 2 biological parents living in the same household.

    Even in an area with a Baptist church on every corner, different families practiced different faiths or did not attend any house of worship. I do not recall any LGBT parents, but I had a few friends who came out in high school (full disclosure -- a magnet school rather than the neighborhood HS).

    My very white, very Baptist, very conservative parents were not too thrilled about it. Nor were my much older sibs. They never stepped foot into an integrated establishment of any sort until they were adults. But going to school with a variety of classmates, I had my own data set and made up my own mind.

    Just because you're not a drummer doesn't mean that you don't have to keep time. -- T. Monk

    by susanala on Sun Oct 09, 2011 at 12:18:47 PM PDT

  •  Public education isn't working. (0+ / 0-)

    I have a diet plan that "works". Trouble is, it only works for marathon runners and Olympic swimmers. Everybody else gets fat.

    Public education "works" for kids with educated parents and/or kids in wealthy suburbs.

    I live in the inner city. The schools are under-funded, under-staffed, and have poor facilities. There is also a lack of choice for parents. Poor families are forced to attend one specific school, whether it works or not.

    The kids also have many socioeconomic problems that are not the school's fault.

    We had a Charter School that was very popular and that helped many kids. The local Teacher's Union closed it down because it threatened them.

  •  Charter schools are better. (0+ / 0-)

    The Stanford study is deeply flawed. It did not measure how kids actually performed.

    Instead, they created computer models of hypothetical kids and speculated on how they might hypothetically perform in a Charter school.

    This ignores the most important data point -- if the family kept their kid in the Charter, there must have been a good reason.

    It's classic bad research...they sampled on the dependent variable.

    Here in NYC, Charter schools are a refuge for kids who are not doing well in traditional Public schools. Charter schools are free to offer alternative teaching/learning styles and alternative schedules.

    Some are threatened by this.

    •  I don't see that (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      BMarshall

      I'm working on some follow-up data on charter schools here in the Pasadena area. It's not complete yet, but I have yet to find a single example of a charter school outperforming the local district average for any socio-economic group at any grade level. The public schools beat the local charters every time. In my experience, it's only by cherry-picking that charter schools can sometimes show better overall average test scores than public schools in the same geographic area. Once you account for the demographic cherry-picking, the charter school "advantage" disappears.

      •  That's the Bad Statistics at work. (0+ / 0-)

        The Charter School should be expected to have lower scores because if a given kid was doing OK, his parents would leave him in the public school.

        Happy kids don't switch schools.

        Also be careful. You state:

        "I have yet to find a single example of a charter school outperforming the local district average for any socioeconomic group at any grade level"

        How big is a district? If you have 10 schools in a district, the charter is not going to open on the rich side of town. It will open in the toughest neighborhood, near the worst school. That is where their customers are.

        So you can't compare the charter to the 10-school average. You have to compare it to the nearest schools (CREDO did this, btw).

        You must also consider that the Charter will get tougher kids. The happy kids won't transfer.

        It becomes more complicated if Charters are allowed to cherry-pick. They are not in NYC, but CA may be different.

        Good luck with your study. You will find truth to be elusive...and when you find it it will not be well-received....

        •  I don't buy your analysis (1+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          BMarshall

          "Happy kids don't switch schools" - often kids are enrolled right into charters and are never in the traditional school. Parents sometimes are excited about a charter because of a special feature it offers. They may also be swayed by the marketing - if it's scarce it must be better.

          If you are deciding charters are better based on test scores, the data does not suggest that charters as a whole increase test scores for the students that attend them.

          Now, there are other advantages a charter might offer. For example, we have a local Waldorf charter. As a test score factory, it's a disaster. But the kids who go there do well and seem happy. I think it's great that all the second graders learn to knit even if it isn't on the California STAR test. But, realistically, they do as well as they do because they have more than their share of committed parents, parents who will arrange to get their kids to an inconvenient school, parents who care enough to choose a school, parents who value things like teaching 2nd graders to knit.

          When you compare the kids in a charter school lottery, and compare the outcomes of the kids who get in and the kids that don't, you don't see that the charter kids have higher scores.

          Charters don't tend to keep kids that aren't working out in their program. KIPP, for example, is very demanding on parents and students in its particular way. Families who are not 100% on board don't stay. KIPP keeps the kids that thrive in KIPP. That's not necessarily a bad thing at all - if those kids get an education that works better for them, and there's not harm to the other kids in the district, that is all good. But, I can tell you straight up that I would not choose KIPP for my daughter. And, if you are seeing results that KIPP students are doing better... ask yourself how many kids didn't stay in KIPP.

          Some charters are great schools, and I think non-profit charters are a good thing. I think giving families and students options is valuable. But, I think it serves us better if we admit that charters pick up different kids, and accept that as a feature rather than pretending it's not so.

          Fry, don't be a hero! It's not covered by our health plan!

          by elfling on Sun Oct 09, 2011 at 09:53:34 PM PDT

          [ Parent ]

          •  I accept that Charters... (0+ / 0-)

            ...accept different kids.

            I just don't see any reason to assume that the kids who wind up in charters are any easier to teach than other kids.

            There is a widespread myth that Charter kids have better parents, or are smarter, or richer, etc. There is no evidence that this is true.

            Even the much-cited CREDO study agrees with me on this:


            "Further, the presumption of a positive selection bias may be speculative for other reasons. It implies that parents of TPS [Traditional Public School] students do not themselves exercise choice as to where their students attend school.

            While the proportion of “choosers” to “non‐choosers” among TPS parents is unknown, the notion of an entirely passive parental population in TPS schools seems inappropriate. In the absence of hard data, the best estimate is that the two groups are evenly
            split."

            Basically, the assumption that Charter school parents are more involved assumes that Public school parents don't care where their kids go. In reality Public school parents (like the Diarist!) think carefully about their choice. How can we say that Charter parents are more involved when we have just read a Diary by an involved parent who chose Public schools?

            I know from experience (warning: anecdotal evidence) that one charter in NYC had a class packed with discipline problems and non-readers who were failing at their public school. This happens in NYC because charters cannot refuse any kid. They are therefore swamped with the tough cases from every school for miles around. In the Bronx, that can be a lot...

  •  On using testing to evaluate schools (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    elfling, BMarshall

    Thank you to everyone for the kind feedback. I want to address one other point: Many friends have said that test scores are a lousy way to measure educational performance and effectiveness. And I agree.

    But allow me to suggest that only when the public becomes convinced that testing shows public education is working well (as I believe it does), will politicians suddenly decide that they don't want so much testing anymore. Yeah, that's a cynical view, but I also believe that the most vocal advocates of testing are public education's political opponents, people who hope to use testing to destroy public confidence (especially white, middle class confidence) in the public schools.

  •  Nice diary, (0+ / 0-)

    thank you for writing it.

    Fry, don't be a hero! It's not covered by our health plan!

    by elfling on Sun Oct 09, 2011 at 09:54:14 PM PDT

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