Schoolchildren Have Much at Stake in This Election
"Why?" she asks - constantly. My granddaughter will turn 4 in April, and she is naturally inquisitive, especially when she's told to do something she doesn't want to do.
As a stepfather, I missed out on my children's early years. Finding that balance between teaching a child the necessary skill of following instructions and nurturing that single-word question that is at the heart of analytical thinking is new to me.
How that balance is managed, not just at home where her mother and grandmother can compensate for my inexperience, but in her schools, will be critical to her ability to achieve her full potential.
That's why my granddaughter has as much at stake in the upcoming election as anybody I know. The issue is, are we willing to invest the time and resources necessary to repair our faltering public school system, or do we let it wither and offer "choices"?
To answer that, we need to understand those choices which involve some degree of privatization - either charter schools, or vouchers for private schools - and their implications.
There are currently 115 charter schools operating in North Carolina, with 25 more approved for the 2013-2014 school year and another 63 under consideration. Like traditional public schools, charter schools are funded by tax dollars. The differences are that they are administered by private firms that seek to maximize results, that they are less regulated than public schools, and that they are not required to offer transportation, so they may be less accessible.
Considering the extra leeway afforded to charter schools, you might expect significantly improved results from them. Not so, according to a study by researchers at Stanford University looking at the performance of charter schools in 25 states, including North Carolina. According to Jeff Faux, founder of the Economic Policy Institute, the study found that 17 percent of charter school students performed better than their public school counterparts, 46 percent no better and 37 percent worse.
Along with charter schools, Mitt Romney offers as part of his plan, "Allow low-income and special-needs students to choose which school to attend by making Title I and IDEA funds portable" - that is, vouchers for low-income and special-needs students to attend private schools.
That makes for a good sound bite, but it falls considerably short of a comprehensive solution. Would private schools be required to take all low-income and special-need students? What about low-income students who lack transportation or students whose guardians earn too much to qualify as low-income but cannot afford private school tuition?
As part of his plan for education in North Carolina, GOP gubernatorial candidate Pat McCrory suggests a two-track system for high schools - one for academics and the other (with help from the private sector) for vocational training. The opportunity for vocational training in high schools is a great idea - in addition to, not separate from, academic training.
These choices do not fix a broken education system; they merely abandon a segment of the population that those who offer them are not interested in helping. They exacerbate the regression of the American education to separate and unequal, with the potential to create a perpetual underclass.
Anti-bias activist Michaela Pommells sees education reform as racism. In a column for the Huffington Post, she wrote, " Let's face it: Race inequity may not be a deliberate goal of education policy and practice (or maybe it is) but neither is it accidental. The result is a whole lot of seemingly well-meaning people trying to evoke change in an education system that never intended to educate people of color in the first place."
Without a doubt, the risk of GOP education reform falls disproportionately upon minorities, but it is just as much an issue of class. The anemic upward mobility of low- and middle-income households is threatened, regardless of race.
Just as with fracking, the limited potential for improving the lives of a substantial number of North Carolinians comes with copious corporate backing - in this case, from companies that see the increased privatization of education as a potential revenue stream. Also like fracking, you should not expect that stream to flow very much downhill.
My granddaughter deserves the same chance as children of families with the means to ensure that they never have to settle for a vocational diploma. Let us resolve to undertake the difficult mission of reviving public education, because no child's potential should be limited by circumstances not of his or her making.
Kevin Smith lives in Aberdeen. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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