School Choice the Only Way to Reform Education

Friday, 21 Oct 2011 10:12 AM

By Chris Freind

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Weather forecasters are wrong much of the time. But you can’t hold them responsible for that unpredictable icy blast felt this week.

It was Hell freezing over.

Seems Dante’s inferno took a dip in the cold, not coincidentally, at the exact same time that former Philadelphia School Superintendent Arlene Ackerman — a 43-year fixture in the public education establishment — called for comprehensive school choice as the primary means to improve education.

Calling access to a quality education “the civil rights battle of our generation,” Ackerman penned a column in which she lamented that it took her entire career to realize that true reforms would never originate from inside the system.

“Real reform will never come from within the system because too many powers that be (the teachers' union, politicians, consultants, vendors, etc.) have a vested interest in maintaining the status quo that is failing our children.”

Dr. Ackerman then offered the common sense solution: “Meaningful education reform must be forced upon the system from outside by giving parents of all income levels real choices about where their children go to school. That requires giving parents comprehensive school choice.”

Ackerman also advocates the expansion of charter schools since they can hire, and fire, teachers based on merit.

Holding people accountable for their job performance. What a novel idea. If only we did that in other jobs. Oh wait. We do. It’s called the private sector.

Despite the comedy routine of those who have nothing to “Occupy” their time except railing against competition and free enterprise, the private sector is what built America into the greatest power the world has ever known.

Without question, though, the United States is slipping into malaise and misery. More than anything, that can be traced to the demise of education.

For decades, all efforts to improve public education have been squashed by teachers’ union bosses, whose loyalty was to their fiefdoms and the almighty paycheck, both funded by taxpayers who were duped into believing their children were receiving the best education possible.

Questions about accountability and declining test scores were answered with the blame game. “Parents don’t put in the time . . . It’s society’s fault . . . There are too many students in each class.” And most common: “We need more money.”

Undoubtedly, some parents don’t put in as much time as they should, and we live in an ever-more complex society, but these cannot be excuses to not adequately teach. In the private sector, when your job becomes tougher, you either meet the challenge or hit the door. Adapt, improvise, overcome — or go home.

Nowhere should that be more applicable than when teachers are entrusted with our children, indeed our future.

And the “not enough money, too many kids” excuse is a myth. Pennsylvania spends $26 billion per year on education, an amount which has doubled since 1996. Despite a drop of 27,000 students over the last 10 years, the public school system had added 33,000 employees. Therefore, increased funding, more personnel, and decreased class size have not improved student achievement.

And the results? A rank of 42nd in SAT scores, and performance on the National Assessment of Education Progress exam has not improved. Most startling, nearly HALF of all 11th graders are not proficient in math and reading — testament to an across-the-board educational failure.

It’s not just that the status quo isn’t working. It has completely failed. Based on that dismal picture, Ackerman’s advocacy that “change that must come from outside the school system” couldn’t come at a better time.

Two elements of Dr. Ackerman’s revelations are worth noting:

1. School choice is imperative if we are not to lose another generation. What we have done, and what we are doing, isn't working. Unless we treat education in the same way as every other successful institution — business, sports, entertainment, the military — then we might as well raise the white flag.

Most western nations have a form of school choice, and the results speak volumes. Compared to our 30 biggest global competitors, America’s students rank near the bottom in every category.

2. Isn’t it a shame that no one in the public education establishment has the courage to speak the truth while still on the inside? It is a sad note that such revelations come after a departure.

More school choice victories around the country are possible. While they won’t be easy given the teachers’ unions’ huge political war chests, maybe, just maybe, the conversion of Arlene Ackerman from the Dark Side of Public Education might be the spark needed to push across the finish line.

Only then will the dream of so many, including Dr. Ackerman, begin to come true: “all children having access to a quality public school education.”

Just what the Doctor ordered.

An accredited member of the media, Chris Freind is an independent columnist, television commentator, and investigative reporter who operates his own news bureau, www.FreindlyFireZone.com. He can be reached at CF@FreindlyFireZone.com.









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