Public = Private? (by Guest Blogger Nelson Endebo)

UNST 421 - Post pictureJonathan Kozol in an interview in BuildBetterSchools brings up a few controversial aspects of Charter Schools and public education at large. According to him, inequalities are now greater than twenty years ago. Addressing this issue, he remarks that “Some states have equalized per-pupil spending but they set the “equal level” very low, so that wealthy districts simply raise extra money privately. And, even within a single urban district, parents in rich neighborhoods cluster together at a single school, then hold fund-raisers for that school, using celebrities to pull out a wealthy crowd, and raise as much as half-a-million dollars in a single night. No one forces them to share this money with the schools for poor kids that might be just three blocks away. The system is more savage now than ever.” (Italics mine)

Working Toward Civic Coherence?

This paragraph synthesizes many of the issues we have discussed this term. It is significant that Kozol suggests money raised in one school in a given district should be forcedly distributed to schools in the same district. I find this problematic because it works against the efficiency of a system already inefficient. First of all, schools in less wealthy districts which are unable to raise funds are still going to be disadvantaged from the equalized per-pupil spending in the state, because no school in the district could raise half a million dollars to be distributed. Second, instead of looking at the problem from the point of view of “the rich vs. the poor” (which a lot of people find appealing), why not frame the
question towards upholding civic coherence? That the rich ought to raise funds for a public service is in itself a problem, and not an advantage. As long as public services operate on this basis, and public debate functions along these lines, the problem of equity, which lies at the core of our ideas of citizenship and civility, will remain in the dark.

Charter Schools seem to further the problem, insofar as they are designed and marketed for specific audiences. The exclusivity-funded by public resources in Charter schools is clearly problematic in nature, no matter what results it brings (probably one of the few things a civil rights activist and I would agree with!), and it seems unlikely that anyone serious would ignore it. The public ought in my view to decry the furthering of segregation funded by public resources, because it is immoral and should make both rich and poor ashamed of this country. But to accuse people who could afford a private education for their children if they wanted to, like Kozol seems to do, sound like mere resentment and envy, when he
could have simply targeted how low the “equal level” is, which really is the issue here.

Questions for You

I would like to ask you guys:  what do you think about Kozol’s positions in the interview and, moreover, about the idea behind Charter Schools, given the current scenario of public education, in which funds are allocated differently per district instead of being pooled and distributed on a per-student basis?


8 thoughts on “Public = Private? (by Guest Blogger Nelson Endebo)

  1. You raise some good topic points of discussion here. I am partial on the issue of charter schools and how they allocate or raise their funding vs. the even distribution of public school state funding. There has got to be a fair solution to this issue of unequal funding in education. On one hand, who is to tell you where you can or cannot spend your own money? If a wealthy family wants to donate thousands of dollars to their children’s school/charter school to make it better, than they have that right to do so, after all it is their own money. Assuming this family has also paid income/property taxes that have been evenly disbursed throughout the public school system in their state, Oregon. Unfortunately, on the other hand, this shifting of money and attendance greatly effects the more impoverished children that remain at the inner-city public school level, with less attendance comes less funding per-pupil creating an even larger gap in class, race, and equality throughout the system. I hope that these wealthy families also care about the greater good and aesthetics of their larger community and have the integrity to continue to support them financially and physically, helping to rebuild and encourage equal education, perhaps even distributing their donations. This may be also be naïve and hopeful.
    The problem lies within the curriculum as well, who can blame a family for pulling their child out of a standardized testing zone into a free spirited school that allows them to choose their own educational path, especially if they have the resources to do so. Every parent wants the best for their child. These types of learning environments need to be accessible to all, despite your socio-economic status, we clearly need to see a shift in public school curriculum with a boost in special interests, arts and sciences, give the kids what they are craving!
    I agree with Kozol when he comments on the lack of creativity in the education system and how they “Inevitably strip down the curriculum to those specific items that are going to be tested, often devoting two-thirds of the year to prepping children for exams. There’s no time for arts or music or even for authentic children’s books like the joyful works that rich kids still enjoy”. This rings true in many cases and simply isn’t fair. However, I do not agree with Kozol when asked specifically what he would do to change it. He offered no information on how to problem solve this issue or any sort of solution on how to provide better access to funding, education, and a creative learning environment to all students in America, not just to the rich kids.

    • Katie,
      A quick search on Jonathan Kozol yield tremendous results. He may not outline ways to fix the problem in his brief interview, but he founded the Cambridge Institute for Public Education, which is a group that works to fight against NCLB and to develop a more equal model for public education. Additionally, he founded Education Action! which is a group that fights to keep quality teachers from leaving underfunded/underprivileged schools. Mr Kozol, with whom I do not agree with all of his ideas, is definitely doing more than his part to bring equality to our unbalanced education system.

  2. Up until this article I had a pretty good idea about how I felt about charter schools. Sure, skeptics say that charter schools “destabilize traditional schools and don’t yet yield better student achievement.” (Article: SEI: A local Charter School) To this I say that “traditional” school isn’t for everyone, and maybe a charter school is a great alternative option. Also, according to some statistics students at charter schools are achieving.

    I agree with Katie, that our kids are craving and do need the special interest subjects (arts, etc). It’s so unfortunate that these are the programs that are being cut, but how can you blame schools for spending most of the year preparing for these exams. It’s not ideal, but when so much is based on those exam scores what else can you do. I’m not saying I agree that that’s how schools should be, but I guess I can see why it’s happening.

    Based on what I know about charter schools I’m not against them. I do see Kozol’s point about some of the issues though. I wrote about some of this in my conversation starter this week, about how the wealthy schools have fundraisers that raise a lot of money that goes directly to that one school. You think there would be a way to have money maybe fundraised for a district instead of just one school. Although there are problems in that too.

  3. Did you catch the part with in the interview with Kozol about how the President went to a integrated public school, but now his kids go to private school? Mr Kozol said that as if it was a bad thing. I few times in the discussion the passage ‘Parents want what is best for their kids’ has been thrown around. I couldn’t agree more. So if we (assuming that the we is parents, or are prospective parents) want what truly is best, why would we NOT send our kids to the best of private schools if we could to afford it. Why does it appear that we hold the Mr Obama to a different standard?

    • Great point Kyle. After doing a bit of research on Mr. Kozol, a passionate progressive man who obviously cares deeply about changing the education system for the better, I found myself agreeing with him less and less after he makes these types of negative comments towards parents changing schools without no real action!
      Leave Obama alone!
      I can’t help but think that anyone in his position would do the same thing if they had the money and power.I dislike that they make no mention in the article of the security reasons for privatizing the presidents daughters education as I’m sure that is a main factor. Point made; If you have the means to provided a better education for your child and move them into a charter or private school you should not be shamed in doing so. Parents realize the systems problems, see they have no control over certain issues, and they choose to take action the only way they can. Should parents be shamed for this type of relocating in the education system, for doing all they can to get their child ahead when in turn it may cause other students to fall behind? This should shed light on the public schools that have a low enrollment rate and cause action for change within those schools, where there are few, poor inner-city kids that have no other option. Give these kids the opportunity to merge/or create a “charter” like environment where these students follow their own path and still receive the same amount of funding by allocating proper per-pupil spending, despite your location. Kozol provided none of the sound solutions or innovative, fresh ideas we are looking for on how to re-vamp the educational systems way of spending. We need someone with his knowledge and experience to bring something to the table and give us the info we(as parents) need to make the best decision possible for our kids in schools. We expect to have an ally in the midst of things that can inform us and allow us to weigh in on key issues like these, we need Kozol but we need him to be better!

      • The issue of mentioning where Obama’s kids go to school reveals a residual classist resentment, and that is a huge problem for people who work towards equity in anything.

        What I find important about mentioning Obama’s decision to send his daughters to a private school is not the classist strain that it contains, but because it implies that Obama, taken solely as a citizen, believes that having control over his daughers’ education is easier in a private setting. That means that the president mistrusts the public system in its capacity to take his kids as individuals and not numbers in the NCLB statistics charts.

        So this does has in my view have public significance. I am not complaining he has money to do so; I am stating that the president, outside of this extraordinary capacity, understands that the public system is not good enough for his children.

        The question is whether parents have ANY control over their children’s education when its provider is the government. One way to improve it, then, would be to allow for more freedom within the system (the whole creationism vs. evolution controversy is at the heart of this problem, isn’t it?).

        I don’t have to say that in my opinion, parents are more trustworthy as their children’s educators than the government, do I?

      • I really love your position here, Katie. Yes, breathing fire! Love it.

        I always thought that one of the things that made a good teacher good is the ability to perceive talents and vocations in the students early on, and create within the classroom an environment where such things can be nurtured and fostered.

        I had a math teacher when I was in high school who was like that. I didn’t care about his class, so I would bring a book with me to read during it. Once he caught me with the book open, and asked: “what are you reading, sir?”. I said, apologizing, “Dostoievski”. He looked at me and said: “well, that was a damn good choice, young man”. I ended up trusting him more and did well in the class, even though I wasn’t interested in it. And here I am now, a Lit. major.

        One of the things that kills one inside is having a talent starved and a course of life thereby derailed. Whoever thinks teaching arts and music is useless have no idea about the kind of social energies that can be re-channelled through them. I know musicians with a solid career who started in a high school band, and if it wasn’t for that they would have become ne’er-do-wells in their small towns.

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