Wednesday, May 1, 2013

Preppers and the Public Schools

            I know I might stir up a Hornets nest, but I keep hearing so much from Preppers and “conservative” media about how bad our public schools are. As a public school teacher, I have to respond. Below, I discuss the some of the current hot topics in public education bashing.
“Common Core State Standards”
            The Common Core State Standards are a set of English and Math standards developed by a group of people with input from anyone who would give it. The standards apply to K-12 education and have been formally adopted by most states. The standards were designed to build on student skills each year and require student to think more deeply about fewer concepts. So what is all the fuss about?
            The quick answer is: I don’t know. These are just standards that have always been there, just more concise. Some people have complained about the standards being too universal. Some complain that it teaches our kids to be communists (a laughable conclusion). I have never heard a cogent argument against the specific standards, only railing against individual assignments that have nothing to do with the standards. Assignments are generally made and distributed by teachers. If you think an assignment is offensive, blame the teacher. I will probably be standing right next you complaining myself. But blaming the standards for bad assignments is like blaming the Bible when someone kills an abortionist.
            By the way, Science education recently got our own set of national standards call the Next Generation Science Standards. Oddly, few people are complaining about these standards (except some science teachers).
            In the interest of full disclosure, I don’t think we need ANY national education standards. I believe in local control when it comes to education. If a local school is failing, turning out sub-par students, it should be up to the local community to fix them. If they don’t, they get what they deserve. We don’t need a huge, bloated bureaucracy thousands of miles away telling us what our students need to know.

“Charter Schools Are Better than Public Schools”
            If you have seen “Waiting for Superman,” you have seen some great examples of charter schools. Some of the greatest teaching innovations out there are coming from charter schools. That being said, you are comparing apples and oranges.
            Sometimes I think I would love to teach at a charter school. They are smaller, have more parent involvement, push their students more, have more control of their curriculum, take more field trips, remove poor teachers quickly, and lot of other things. That works really well for them because they are so small.
Public education doesn’t have that luxury. We HAVE to teach EVERY kid. We can’t pick and choose. If a student is falling behind or just doesn’t want to perform at the charter school, they can kick them out. Then what happens? WE get the student in public school. Of course the charter schools tend to look better. They take the better students from the public schools. I don’t begrudge any parent from wanting to place their kid there, but remember it is not necessarily the education that increases performance. It is often the ability to pick and choose who they teach. Their test scores are always going to look better because they don’t have the same range of students. It skews the results. I would put my top 20% against any charter schools top 20% any day.

“Homeschooling is Better than Public School”
            A lot of Preppers homeschool their kiddos for a lot of reasons. Some disagree with curriculum on religious grounds. Some don’t like the “Commie Teachers.” Some are afraid of the other students influence. I understand and sympathize with all of those comments.
The sad fact is that most home school educations are lacking. Unless you are properly trained to teach, formally or informally, you are probably not that effective. Now don’t get butt hurt and start yelling about how great a teacher you are. You may be doing a stand up job and I am not saying every homeschooling parent is bad. I’m saying most are not as good as they could be. Your specific child may flourish under you tutelage, but I have met too many homeschooled students that behind their peers in many ways.
A lot of homeschoolers use prepared curriculum. These resources are good enough, I suppose, but are they as good as having someone with years of training in that subject, and in the art of teaching, teach your kid? Probably not. How about teaching your kid to deal with others? They can deal well with mommy and the brothers and sisters, but what about dealing with “different” students? How well does homeschooling teach the ability to deal with all the jerks they are going to be dealing with the rest of their lives? You can’t shelter them forever.
I don’t want to argue with people about their particular situation because there are so many I can’t possibly address them all. I will absolutely concede that there are times when homeschooling is the better choice. Having a truly horrible school system in your area or a dangerous community environment, for example. But by and large, you may be doing your child a disservice by depriving them of everything a public education entails.

“Public Schools are Failing!”
            Yes, some public schools are horrible. And most of them are in large, urban areas. Chicago and DC come to mind. That doesn’t mean all public schools are failing all their students. Some are not serving specific populations such as English learners, special education, athletes, etc., as well as they could. Generally, students who want an education and are willing to work do well in public schools. Students who have involved parents, not just complaining parents, tend to get a better education.
            We face a lot of challenges in public education. That is not a dismissal of accountability. My students, school and district are one of the highest performing in the state despite having a high percentage of english learners, a high poverty rate, gang problems and a high level of student apathy. We also have dedicated professionals and involved parents which help to overcome a lot of issues.
            Why are some schools truly failing? Personally, I blame the Union mentality. After studying school reform for many years, I see the same problems over and over again. Poor quality teachers and administrators are allowed to remain in their jobs because they are protected by Unions and bad contracts. It’s far easier to reassign an employee than to fire them. Charter schools don’t have that issue. Homeschooling doesn’t either. Dissolve the teachers Unions, get rid of collective bargaining and make teaching a competitive job and you will see students perform like never before. If every Olympian got a gold medal just for showing up, would records still be broken?

            If you have chosen to opt out of public education, I urge you to examine the reasons why. Is YOUR public school system failing? Is it REALLY more dangerous for your child to be at school? Are you worried WHAT the school is teaching? If you look at all the data and decide to homeschool, I can’t really blame you. If your choice to homeschool is based only on things you've HEARD about public education, I urge you to reconsider.