Friday, July 27, 2007

You had to ask

Over at the Pittsburgh Comet, Bram asks what I think of school vouchers and charter schools as the cure for what ails the Duquesne School District. Here was what I said, in answer to his question and in response to someone else who posted a comment at his blog:

I'm not opposed to charter schools, and I'm not opposed to school vouchers that are targeted at low-income families, or families who live in distressed communities. But let's remind our libertarian friends that those are government solutions. Money for vouchers would come from public coffers, and charter schools are public schools--they just happen to be freed from some state regulations and can choose to specialize in certain areas.

In other words, even if government wouldn't be providing education to these students, it would be paying for it. And that's as it should be, because education is a public good. We rely not only on our own education, but on the education of others to allow society to function.

Now, plenty of people think that education is one of many things that the private sector could do better than the public sector. Never mind that privatization of a school in Wilkinsburg several years ago failed, nor that, to me knowledge, the nation's for-profit K-12 education firms have yet to actually make a profit. (I could be wrong on that.)

We can talk all we want about government bureaucracy, or union rules, but at the end of the day, one of the biggest determinants of education success is socio-economic status, and the big challenge is to help schools overcome the disadvantages that poverty brings.

Certainly, many public schools have found ways to do this, and some private schools as well. In Pittsburgh, we have the Extra Mile Education Foundation, which funds four K-8 Catholic schools that primarily serve low-income, African-American students. (And mostly non-Catholic, if I'm not mistaken.) These are great schools, and many of their students continue their success through high school and attend college.

But this brings us back to what Bram is talking about. I don't think the Extra Mile schools go out recruiting students. Perhaps they get referrals. I'm guessing that most children end up there because their parents found out about the schools, or were told about the schools, and made the decision to send their children there. They took all the necessary steps to enroll them. These kids may be poor, but they have parents who care about their education and are motivated to do something about it.

So the question is, how we can help those parents do even more for their children, and what can we do for the children who maybe aren't so blessed? Government can not do everything, you are correct, am in bp, but we have to acknowledge that if we just write off these children, than our most ugly predictions and fears about them will come to pass, and the problems the result will not confine themselves to Duquesne.

Here are some other thoughts I have on privatization of public services.

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