Public schools our best hope to strengthen communities

I wrote the following article for today’s edition of the Fort Wayne Journal Gazette (October 3, 2014).

Published: October 3, 2014 3:00 a.m.
Public schools our best hope to strengthen communities

Supporting the emergence of charter schools as an alternative to public education is one thing. Subsidizing, with vouchers, a family’s choice to transfer their child to a charter or other private or parochial school is another.

“Choice” is one of the key components of the educational reform movement being pushed by the federal government, by the Pence administration and by corporate America. Candidates who support such reforms announce with great passion that education is at the top of their priority list. Voters need to understand that these candidates are not talking about “public education.”

Advocates of “choice,” holding teachers and schools accountable on the basis of ISTEP+ scores, Common Core, taking control of schools out of the hands of communities, and diminishing the influence of teachers unions are what might be called “the politics of abandonment.” These reform initiatives include no provision to help the public schools that are being abandoned and that are losing much-needed revenue.

The sad reality is that charter schools are not the solution to the challenges of public education, if for no other reason than because there will never be enough private classrooms to hold all of our nation’s public school students.

This movement away from strong public schools can only aggravate what is already a two-tiered society of haves and have-nots in which the latter is made up of our nation’s poor and the disadvantaged. It is a burgeoning population that includes the majority of our nation’s minorities and also those for whom English is not their language of birth.

This population is separate and apart from main-stream society. By weakening our public schools and the relationships between those schools and their communities, we are burning the bridges between us; a practice that will have tragic consequences for our future.

Recent events in Ferguson, Missouri are but one example of what happens when the ties that bind us are weakened. What kind of future can we expect when more and more Americans are unable to trust the agencies of government charged with public safety; officials who look on certain neighborhoods and their populations with inherent suspicion? If we want to be a healthy society, we must all be willing to trust one another.

The only way we can begin closing the gap and tearing down the barriers that separate us is to strengthen our public schools and the relationship between those schools and their communities.

We must come together to support our public schools and the educators who do their important work under the most adverse circumstances.

We must return control of our public schools to the communities they serve and to the professional educators upon whom our children depend.

We must restructure our educational process to focus on learning not test preparation. We must create an environment in which our children have time to learn and in which our teachers have time to teach.

Advocates for public education are coming together here in Indiana and all over the U.S. to counter the “politics of abandonment.” Those readers who were unable to attend the Oct. 4 viewing of the video “Rise Above the Mark” are encouraged to check it out and even host another viewing.

Our public schoolchildren and their teachers and schools need Americans to take a stand for public education.

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