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Schooling's Status Quo: Could Individual Choice Possibly Be Worse?
By David W. Kirkpatrick (January 31, 2008)
Senior Education Fellow
U.S. Freedom Foundation www.freedomfoundation.us

 
It's been said there are three kinds of people in the world - those who make things happen, those who watch things happen, and those who don't know anything is happening.   To this might be added a fourth group - those who try to keep anything from happening.
 
Contrary to the comments of some public school critics, the staffs therein are generally decent, honorable people doing the best they can as they understand the system.  But, in terms of the four categories above, the first group, those trying to make things happen, is by far the smallest, so minuscule as to be virtually nonexistent, as witnessed by the fact that in many districts they seem to be totally absent.
 
The second and third groups are undoubtedly the largest categories but that is largely irrelevant since they are nonparticipants in, or even ignorant of, any meaningful attempts to improve the schooling process.
 
That leaves the fourth group.  The good news is that while their numbers may vary with the issue, they often are not be very numerous.  The bad news is that they may still outnumber those promoting reforms.  Opposing change, and often very fearful of any challenge to the status quo, they're not satisfied to merely look askance as serious alternatives, such as any of the variations of school choice.  To the contrary, they are impelled to do everything possible to stop anything they regard as even remotely threatening to what they perceive to be in their interest, although they won't phrase their opposition in those terms.
 
Defenders of the status quo have significant advantages, not least of which is the familiarity of the system and the uncertain success of any change.  Thus these frightened adversaries of change rack up a disproportionate record of victories and thus do the greatest harm. They too often  manage to cloak their self-interest activities in the rhetoric of the righteous, rhetoric that is often hypocritical but which they present as the high ground.
 
A recurring example appeared just recently, prior to the political caucus in Nevada as part of this year's presidential campaign.  As is almost always the case, and this is an objective statement not a political one, it was a Democratic contender who spoke of "giving a voice to the voiceless."   This phrase has been utilized too often by those opposed to school reforms, most specifically vouchers.  They claim their interest is in assisting low income families and, in this instance, their children, in the effort to help them acquire a good education.
 
Assuming for the moment good intentions on their part, it seems not to occur to them that by trying to be a "voice for the voiceless" they are determining the form of education/schooling low-income children.  They have to utilize whether or not they like it. The "voiceless" still have neither voice nor choice. That's how the system has conducted for generations, with consistently poor results. By now it should be clear that this is not the way to go.
 
One observer noted a few years ago that every study since the first one in Chicago in the 1890s has concluded that the public school system has always seen more students fail than succeed.  What is even worse is that the failure rate has regularly been, and still is, highest among those in the lower-income brackets.
 
This continued failure was illustrated just a few days ago with reports on school districts in Pennsylvania.  As the State Board of Education was debating (and passing) a requirement that students must pass six of ten tests in order to receive a high school diploma, a report was issued that indicated, in district after district, a majority of current high school graduates (graduates mind you, not just dropouts) fail to demonstrate competency in various subject areas.  In specific instances the failure rate exceeds 70 percent.
 
This being the case, and with more than a century of unsuccessful experience, instead of claiming to give a voice to the voiceless, whether or not they like what is being said, why not, just for a change, give the voiceless opportunities that make it possible for them to speak for themselves?
 
The results could hardly be worse.

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"I thought that if we got enough schools started, people would say, ‘Let me build schools just like that.' Just the opposite is true. You could get 1,000 schools up and running, and the system would pull them down."  --Melinda Gates (The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, which has spent more than $300 million attempting to reform public high schools.)   P. 54, Patricia Sellers, "Melinda Gates Goes Public," pp 44-56, FORTUNE Magazine, January 21, 2008

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Copyright 2008 David W. Kirkpatrick
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Douglassville, Pennsylvania 19518-9240
Phone: (610) 689-0633

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