Free student 'hostages' and aid our city
She writes that if everyone were flesh-and-blood invested in the public schools, they would have to improve. As crazed as I think her commentary is, I'm glad she got it said. The reason is, I hear a variant of this in the comments of those who blame many of the problems of the Philadelphia public schools on the charter-school movement, or they predict Armageddon if parents were given vouchers and a choice about where to send their kids to school.
This philosophy I've dubbed the "hostage" theory of improving or protecting the public schools. It states in different ways that if all parents have choices, then the public schools would be populated in many schools only by those whose parents didn't care enough to try to search for a private school. Admit it, you've heard this, said it or at least thought it.
I have to concede that in the case of a significant number of Philadelphia public schools, that might turn out to be the case. So, who would suffer the most if vouchers had this effect?
This "hostage" situation in my view played out recently when Attorney General Eric Holder sued Louisiana to restrict poorer, inner-city black families from fleeing underperforming schools. The Louisiana Scholarship Program allows kids in school districts graded C, D or F to receive private money to attend private schools. Holder is suing because he claims that 570 students fleeing bad schools in New Orleans would impede efforts at desegregation.
Gov. Bobby Jindal has noted that the New Orleans public-school system is 88 percent African-American, and this certainly wouldn't create a racial imbalance. Jindal also said: "After generations of being denied a choice, parents finally can choose a school for their child, but now the federal government is stepping in to prevent parents from exercising this right. Shame on them. Parents should have the ability to decide where to send their child to school."
Holder and people like him seem to think that kids like the ones in New Orleans are pawns in a big chess game and are to be kept in place for the greater good. I think the only thing that should matter to parents is to get their child the best education that they possibly can, not next year or five years from now, but right now.
This is not a selfish view but a self-interest view that in the long run benefits all of us. Preserving the current public-school system in Philadelphia or any other major city is a secondary goal to increasing the number of kids who can read, write and think on a high level.
I know that from my many years of teaching in schools like Camden, Philadelphia and the Jersey suburbs that teachers in difficult schools are often worn down with dealing with the disruptive kids and their often difficult parents. The energy needed to maintain order is energy that doesn't go to uplifting kids who truly do want to learn.
The advantage that private schools and charter schools have is that they can dismiss unruly students. They also have the advantage of a huge proportion of parents who are committed to working with their kids and the school.
The public schools have a number of hurdles in expelling anyone, no matter what they do. Students and parents who want an education have rights, too, and they deserve access to an orderly school environment.
So if you send your child to a private school, you are not a bad person contributing to the downfall of one of our great public institutions. Your only added obligation in my view is to push for the means for other parents to have choices about where they want to send their kids to school.
Choice is not to be feared but celebrated. Choice is good for the individual student and parent, and even better for our city.
Teacher-turned-talk show host Dom Giordano is heard weekdays from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. on WPHT-1210 AM Radio. Contact Dom at domgiordano.com.