The following post was initially written as a comment on the op-ed piece "The growing challenge to public education" written by Dr. Stephen Kleinsmith, Superintendent of Nixa Public Schools in Nixa, Missouri. The piece was published by the Springfield News-Leader on January 5, 2017.
I applaud Dr. Kleinsmith's willingness to stand up and say these things that need to be said about the future of public education. Just as the educational constraints of the high-stakes testing environment are starting to dissipate, schools are once again thrust into the frightful unknown.
The schools-as-a-business model exists on the false connection that students can equal products and knowledge can equal monetary profits. Any public school educator, those on the front lines every single day teaching and mentoring ALL students as opposed to only those students who meet the entrance criteria, understand how ridiculous those comparisons are. However, those in big business, like Mrs. Davos, don't possess the experience to understand how wrong they are. She didn't even attend a public school. This means that she will oversee the education of the vast majority of America's future without ever experiencing the world she will manage.
When it comes to vouchers, the reality is often hidden by the first-glance. First-glance focuses on the idea that we want the best education possible for all of our kiddos. Who wouldn't get behind that, right? However, once you move beyond face-value, you will see that it does become a syphon of funds. It drains funds from the public sector and moves them to the private. It is no wonder that those in education big business love this concept.
As local districts strive to increase the equity of the education students receive, vouchers have the opposite effect. To be able to utilize a voucher, one must be able to provide the transportation to the new location. This is often not an issue for those in the middle and upper tier of the socioeconomic reality. They can take the voucher, move schools, and take their funds with them. This results in the school of origin receiving much less funds to utilize for the students who remain. Who are those remaining students? Often, they are the ones whose parents cannot provide the transportation due to work schedules, lack of access to a vehicle, and many other hindrances often caused by lack of money.
We all know where this cycle leads. The schools with the money can provide better resources, better resources usually lead to higher quality of education, higher quality of education leads to higher earning potential after graduation, and higher earning potential leads to more opportunities in life. This is the positive side of the cycle. One must understand that there are two sides to every coin. The other side is that less money leads to fewer resources, fewer resources usually lead to a lower quality education, lower quality education leads to lower earning potential after graduation, and lower earning potential leads to fewer opportunities in life. The cycle of poverty continues.
The fact is that our schools DO need more money. Buildings face the elements and degrade, additional programs that foster growth and teach many soft skills required in the world require money to exist, and we exist in a world where information is outdated the following day. To keep up with these factors, school must have the means to make fixes, provide varied opportunities for every student, and keep up with the ever-changing stream of information our students need to experience.
I would be remiss to not mention the fact that the public education system exists to ensure that each and every student has the opportunity to pursue what was guaranteed in our Declaration of Independence: Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness. They don't have to pass an entrance exam, they don't have to have a certain faith, they don't have to look like everyone else, and they don't have to possess the requisite amount of money. They can just be, learn, and grow.
The incoming administration is a direct threat to all of this, and I hope that every single person with a stake in the public education realm will stand up and speak out. Thank you, Dr. Kleinsmith, for starting the conversation in our community.
* The thoughts and opinions expressed in this post are my own and not necessarily those of my district of employment.