Don’t worry, this actually wasn’t a mommy war. Slate actually ran helpful tips how we can all help the public schools regardless of our personal school choices.
Here is what mother and daughter team Patty Stonesifer and Sandy Stonesifer had to say to a west Los Angeles mother who wanted to help the public schools but send her own children to expensive private schools.
Eloise, the public education failure in this country is huge, and fixing it needs to be a national priority. Thirty percent of American eighth-graders never make it to graduation; 1.2 million students will drop out of high school this year. We rank 21st in science education and 25th in math education among the top 30 industrialized nations. As you know, our country’s future requires deep and broad reform of our public school system. I encourage you to follow, learn, and act on key education decisions that affect all students in California, and you can do that through the Education Trust’s West Coast affiliate. On a national basis, you can learn about what is going on across the country and how you can take action related to the three pillars that are part of the Strong American Schools effort (raising American education standards, putting effective teachers in every classroom, and increasing time for learning). There is some limited good news: The stimulus plan included href=”40 billion for schools, and while most of that will go to prop up state investments in education in times of decreased revenue, about $15 billion of it is discretionary for the new secretary of education, Arne Duncan, who plans to use it reward and accelerate education reform efforts….
…(A friend who is an education expert) made the excellent point that accepting the public education system as it is would be a far better example of “letting the government off the hook” than sending your kids to private school. While making the right personal decision about your children’s well-being is important, so is the public responsibility that you have to advocate for all kids in the same way you advocate for your own. And she underscored what research shows (and every parent knows) to be the most important determinant of success at any school: quality teachers. How we ensure the best teachers are attracted and retained in the system, however, is hotly contested. Performance pay, changes in teacher training, better data systems to track student progress, or any of the other numerous teacher incentive programs will require that we begin to make real efforts at reform and track the evidence of what works. The New Teacher Project, started by Michelle Rhee, the current chancellor of Washington, D.C., public schools, works to help ensure all kids have access to the highest-quality, effective teachers possible.
In President Obama’s first town hall meeting, his answer to the question “How do we know what makes an effective teacher?” was, by some reports, the most animated exchange. Our education guru says that the most well-meaning parents who flee public schools (and probably even well-meaning parents who have their kids in public schools) often end up unconsciously supporting bad policy decisions when they think they are doing what’s best for kids. One of the best examples of this can be found in your home state of California, Eloise. California pushed through a huge statewide class-size-reduction effort in the primary grades. While it cost the state billions of dollars, the effort actually ended up diminishing teacher quality without showing any clear educational benefits. Though “conventional wisdom” still says that smaller class sizes are the most important factor in a child’s educational success, the only thing the research shows to be anything close to a “silver bullet” is ensuring that children end up with a high-quality teacher for an extended time.
Finally, returning to the dilemma of the parent making the decision one child at a time:It’s important to remember that there are great private schools and great public schools. So rather than worry about one type of school over the other, you should focus on identifying your child’s and family’s needs and do your best to find a school that meets them. The Department of Education’s Guide to Choosing a School for Your Child and the Great Schools site both provide good tools and resources for deciding what factors are important to you and finding schools that meet those needs.
What other tips would you have for Eloise in west Los Angeles?