Thought Experiment: Privatizing Public Schools?

Sorry about missing Monday’s post, and (almost) missing Wednesday’s. I was dealing with some symptoms last week and had to catch up on graduate school homework. All is now well and attended to.

This weekend I’m going to DC to debate the topic Resolved: Send Your Child to Public School. I’m looking forward to this debate, because most of the attendants are veterans of the public school system, and I want to hear the arguments in its favor. I myself never saw a day of public school; I attended an independent private school from first grade through high school graduation, and I shudder to think how my life would have been different if I had gone to public school for twelve years. I probably would have been fine, but I wouldn’t have had half of the opportunities I’ve had. I’m pretty sure I would never have considered a school like Wesleyan, let alone applied with confidence.

From my limited understanding of it, attending public school is good deal if you live in wealthy suburb in Long Island, Westchester, or in Hudson Valley. If, like me, you’re a black or Hispanic kid from Brooklyn and your parents can’t afford $40,000 a year tuition to private schools, you’re pretty much out of luck. Public schools in New York City are increasingly turning into drop out factories. Leaving school without a high school diploma is essentially signing up for a life of poverty and hardship. Some of the people can manage to lift themselves out of poverty’s rat race, but in many cases, it’s a road that leads to crime, incarceration, violence, and death.

Recent figures show black and Hispanic students are very far behind their white and Asian counterparts: in dozens of schools, not a single black or Hispanic child passed the statewide reading or math exams. This is a condemnation of the public school systems, but it also shows a lack of parental involvement. Are these parents reading to their kids at night, helping them with homework, attending parent teaching conferences? Probably not. Not all of this is the parents’ fault. Some parents don’t speak English and have to work all the time to put food on the table. But it’s also a question of priorities.

But what about charter schools or specialized high schools? Yes, schools like Stuyvesant and Bronx Science are terrific if you can get in and survive the pressure-cooker competitiveness long enough to graduate and get into a top college. But most black kids don’t get in; Stuyvesant admits fewer than ten black students per class. It may be a question of not applying because of a lack of skills to score well enough on the test, or low self-esteem to not even consider attending a prestigious school such as Stuyvesant. New York City has the most segregated schools in the country.

Here’s a thought experiment: what would happen if we privatized public schools? How would that affect black and Hispanic students?

I don’t have the answers to these questions. I’m not in education policy. I just know America is falling behind in the world, and children of color are falling behind even further and faster. And if you’re a parent with a child in school, regardless if they’re going to public or private school, you must read to your child in order for them to compete on on a global stage.

I’ll do a post-debate blog post to let you know which way the debate turns out.