Monday, October 20, 2008

Obama, McCain, and Public Education

As someone who works in the DC Public System, I am personally witnessing the lowest-performing education system in the country.  It is truly fascinating to watch how teachers deal with the restructuring and new leadership of Michelle Rhee (http://www.theatlantic.com/doc/200811/michelle-rhee/2), the firing of principals, and the closing of underpopulated schools.   The teachers are struggling with a plethora of testing restrictions, many of which are imposed by No Child Left Behind (NCLB).  Of course, the problem is also that when you have kids from the murder capital of the US, it's difficult to explain why a good education is more valuable than street smarts or impressing your peers at school.  Fights constantly break out, and no matter what you threaten these kids with in terms of discipline, they've got it worse at home.   There's no doubt that public schools are failing to get through to these kids.

On the other hand, I know some people who work for a charter school.  They run a very tight ship, and it's night and day with our two schools.  Charter schools have the freedom to set more of their own rules, guidelines, and curricula.  They can be more picky in their administration, and the general consensus appears to be that charter schools are known for better preparing students.  Some of my 6th graders once attended charter schools, and they are the best in the class.  When teachers talk about charter schools, it's always with respect, though of course they resent the fact that charter school teachers have more freedom and better pay.  

There are roughly 23984 issues concerning public education in this country, and many involve the distribution of public funds.  How do we get schools that teach the kids who are statistically unlikely to survive past 25?  What, if any, social obligation do we have to educate the youth of families unable to afford better education?  Should it involve public funds?  How do we encourage and incentivize children to learn?  After all, how can we have an informed electorate and citizens capable of accepting individual responsibility in a culture that reinforces entitlements and violence?  Certainly these are not easy questions to answer, but each Sunday I hope to explore a new aspect of the public education debate.

Join us next week, on Sundays with Sloane.

To get more info on Obama v. McCain in this arena, check out this article.  

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