Most Americans consider public school as the most logical choice for educating their children. Why? Because (1) parents are already paying taxes for it (i.e.–it feels “free”) and (2) it’s easy (i.e. the bus comes to pick kids up, times coincide with parents’ work day, extra-curricular activities are provided relatively free).
Public schools began springing up new England in the early 1600s ; by the 1800s, half the children in America attended school, at least for their elementary years; during the 1800-1900s, the U.S. maintained one of the highest literacy rates in the world. Still, advanced education was a luxury of the rich; mandatory education, integration, and widespread college attendance would follow within the century. This battle over education continues on.
By the 1970s, moral and intellectual shifts jarred many conservative Americans into rethinking the educational norms. In reaction to humanism, evolution, amoral literature, and changing family dynamics, a radical educational shift (or maybe just a returning to original education intent) occurred through the birth of “Christian” or parochial schools. Religious schools up until this time were largely Catholic; but of course, parents would need to be pro-Catholic to consider attendance.
I will address private and home school scenarios in later blogs. What does public school offer families today? Some pros and cons are listed below. Depending on your values, experience, and your neighborhood public schools, my list may vary dramatically from your pros and cons list. Comment away on my blog or facebook and pass this link along to friends. A lively debate is good feedback for all. Here’s what I think:
- essentially cost-free and time-effective for parents
- wide range of HS core academic courses on many levels (standard, college prep, honors, AP)
- wide range of MS and HS elective courses on many levels (Shakespeare, oceanography, creative writing, drawing, marketing, trigonometry, word-working, Japanese, etc.)
- HS courses for college credit (AP) and dual-credit courses (taken at community colleges in area)
- trained, certified teachers, often with life experience in teaching
- elementary in-school and after-school enrichment classes, often sponsored or subsidized by PTA (school play, French, Spanish, writing club, sports clubs, etc.)
- increased writing, discussion, and critical thinking at honors and AP class levels
- MS and HS extra-curricular activities and clubs (band, choirs, dance, drama, language, athletics, debate, robotics, etc); costs from free to large fees, but usually with fund-raising opportunities
- MS and HS travel opportunities led by teachers and coaches (foreign trips; band & choir trips, athletic trips; district, regional, and state competitions)
- large student body (someone for everyone, competitive environment)
- guidance staff that welcomes (and filters) parental involvement
- neighborhood schools (kids go to school with their neighborhood friends)
- discounted or free (for underprivileged) breakfast and lunch
- separate tracks for gifted and learning-disabled; individualized evaluations and programs available
- platform of influence in the community for involved parents and families
- opportunity for Christian students to set standards in the “real world” while still living at home
- diverse population in ethnicity, religious beliefs, and social-economic standing (depending on the area)
- charter schools (private school environment with public school price) offered in many urban areas as an alternative to inner-city schools
- programs and trained teachers for the handicapped
- IB (inter-baccalaureate) schools for gifted students; discussion, project, and critical-thinking emphasized; huge hands-on learning opportunities
- HS specialty schools and programs that offer career training, certification, and advanced diploma opportunities (mechanics, arts, language immersion, leadership, technology, culinary arts, physical therapy, teacher training, ROTC, etc.)
- lack of parental control (or minimal parental control) over curriculum, role models, peers, and environment
- humanistic approach to knowledge, truth, lifestyle, and culture through curriculum and role models
- potential hostile environment for sub-cultures (ethnicity, religious beliefs & expression, etc.)
- potential increased opportunity for danger, acts of terror, and hostility
- moral and religious influences on children perhaps not ready to make good decisions
- larger opportunity for exposure to drugs, alcohol, promiscuity, and undesired sub-cultures (debatable, depending on private school alternative)
- zoning requiring students to attend schools in undesirable neighborhoods
- teachers trained in secular humanism; potential of tenured teachers lacking motivation to train students
- lack of charter or specialty schools in an area as a better free alternative
- “red tape” to securing individualized help for learning-disabled or gifted
- classroom teaching targets the middle 1/3 of the classroom; upper and lower thirds may not get attention needed
- more government-mandated regulations and agendas for curricula
- sex education and ethical discussions occurring outside a moral reference point
- less personalized attention; students can be easily overlooked if not gifted or problematic
- average teacher-student ratio are generally much higher than most private, parochial, or home-school scenarios, somewhere between 20:1 and 32:1
- emphasis on rote memory and teaching toward standardized testing, with less critical thinking
- limited free-play, free-learning, and discussion-based learning at mainstreamed levels
- lower national scores on all standardized testing (including SAT & ACT) than private or home-school contemporaries
- threat of feeling “lost,” unrecognized, lonely, uninvolved, or friendless for many students
Some Statistics (feel free to do your own homework here; depending on the slant and the origin of the statistic–not all stats are congruent):
- The national average cost per public school student is $10,000; areas that spent more do not achieve higher scores–usually they are urban areas, whose students earn lower scores.
- The United States ranks anywhere from 6th to 25th worldwide in reading and math scores, depending on the study; the U.S. has largely maintained its standings among the developed countries of the world, while lesser developed countries in S. America and Eastern Europe have made tremendous gains in recent years (consider the gap they needed to close). Some Asian and European countries (Finland, S. Korea, Hong Kong, Japan, and Singapore) generally dominate in all rankings. The Low and Scandinavian countries in Europe follow closely. When looking at rankings, however, consider the culture and lifestyle. Education in many of these countries is rigid, uncreative, and merciless, especially for the artistic, athletic, and learning-disabled.
- The average American teacher’s salary is $56,000.
- White public school children achieve the highest scores in public school, in the 57-58%; Blacks and Hispanics score in the 24-28%. An interesting observation: homeschool counterparts demonstrate NO difference in scores between races, suggesting that parental involvement rather than academics are at play here.
- Average student-teacher ratio is usually labeled around 15:1; however, real classroom stats range between 14:1 to 32:1; check your school’s stats and discern how they determine that (they might average in aides or resource teachers who are not consistently present in the classroom).
- The Department of Education spends over $600 billion per year on American education.
Conclusion: Don’t settle. Know your kid. Do your homework. Train by value, not convenience. You may still choose public schooling–I’m definitely not condemning it. All I’m saying is to make your decisions intentionally, after prayer, deliberation, and counsel. But don’t throw your hands up and moan about the decline of the American public school system. These schools belong to us. We pay for them, whether we send our kids there or not. We have an obligation to influence the destiny of the next generation. How will we best do that? Parents, not children, bear the responsibility of influencing their communitites for good.