Are some schools better than others? Public Education vs Privitization

I am a huge fan of The Daily Show with Jon Stewart and watch the show everyday. For those of you that have never seen it, you are missing out. It is the perfect mix of comedy and politics. The Daily Show is definitely left-leaning politically, but is not afraid to take on both the left and the right. The show is very much a comedy show but Jon Stewart does have serious guests on his show.

Last week Jon had on Diane Ravitch to talk about her new book, The Reign of Error: The Hoax of the Privatization Movement and the Danger to America’s Public Schools. In the interview, Diane discusses the state of education in the United States.

Although Diane is talking about education as it pertains to the United States, there are definitely some universal themes discussed. She points out that poverty is the number one contributor to low academic achievement. She goes on to point out that there is a direct correlation between districts that have low test scores and districts that have the highest rates of child poverty. I would wager that the same could be said about Canada and other industrialized nations. When students are sick, hungry, and have little to no supports in the home, they are at a huge disadvantage. According to Diane, this is “the elephant in the room” that legislators and decision makers are not taking about. She goes on to point out that if we really wanted to improve education we would make class sizes smaller, we would have nurses and health-clinics available in the schools,and we would make physical education and the arts a priority.

Another theme that emerges in this interview is that of having education look more like a marketplace with the allusion of choice as opposed to having good public education available for all. Based on my 15 years of experience,  I believe that there is a perception in the public that some schools are simply better than others. Some schools have better programs, higher academic standards, and better teachers. In my opinion, this is simply not true. Every school has great teachers, every school has great programs, every school has high academic standards, but not every school has the same demographics. This goes back to the point that Diane made in the interview; area’s with high poverty rates tend to have poor test scores. But does that mean it is a bad school with bad teachers? Of course not. This is a great example of how data can be used incorrectly. I believe data has its place to help guide decision making, but there is a huge danger when we use data to compare one school to the next. When the general public see’s data presented this way, they might choose to send their children to the school with higher test scores because it is perceived that it is a better school, and I believe this is a very dangerous premise.

I whole-heartedly agree with Diane when she says at the end of the interview, “People should have a good neighborhood school in every neighborhood. One where they are very happy to send their kids because they know the teachers are terrific”. Data definitely has its place but we need to move away from using it to compare schools. As Diane says, we need to start to looking at students as individuals and not as data points. Picking a school for you child should not be a consumer choice. In my opinion and in my experience, every school has good teachers and good programs and even though every school is different, one is not necessarily better than the other.

So what do you think? Are some schools better than others? How much choice should parents have when deciding where their child might go to school? Is the public school model working or do we need to move to a privatization model? I would love to hear what you think!