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As If Money Doesn't Matter in Education

Every once in a while, an article about education appears in print that serves as a perfect rebuttal to an outlandish claim. As much as I hate to give publicity to H. Christopher Whittle because of his abysmal track record in the field, I feel Avenues: The World School meets that criterion because it illustrates the importance of money in educating the young ("Is This the Best Education Money Can Buy?" The New York Times Magazine, May 5).

Located in the Chelsea neighborhood of New York City, the $85 million, for-profit Avenues opened its doors last September with 740 students from pre-K to ninth grade. Its $43,000-a-year tuition buys a 9-to-1 student-to-teacher ratio, as well as a host of other benefits that would be the envy of even other super affluent private school parents. These include consultants for practically every aspect of the school, organic lunches, and an iPad for every student beginning in kindergarten.

What immediately jumped off the page was the student-to-teacher ratio. Public schools in New York City under Mayor Michael Bloomberg have seen class sizes increase, even though Project Star found that class-size reduction is particularly helpful for disadvantaged and minority students ("Does Class Size Count?" The New York Times, May 5). The size of classes in the early grades is presently the largest in 14 years. In middle and high schools, teachers have classes of 30 or more ("The Education of Michael Bloomberg," The Nation, May 6). How can teachers in public schools possibly compete with teachers in Avenues in light of this one factor alone?

Because of the obvious advantages that Avenues provides students, parents worry that their children may not develop "humility." It's a realistic concern. When children from birth know nothing except privilege, they tend to develop an attitude of entitlement that endures throughout their lives. The motto on the walls of Avenues proclaims: "You Miss 100 Percent of the Shots You Never Take." But when children grow up in a golden cocoon, they are not likely to stretch to the point of failure.

On the other hand, I can't blame parents for wanting to give their own children the best their wealth can buy. That's only natural. However, I challenge the no-excuse crowd to deny that money doesn't matter in providing a quality education. If it doesn't, why do parents gladly shell out the hefty tuition for Avenues? Public schools in the inner cities in particular must be wondering if Avenues is located in the same country.

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The opinions expressed in Walt Gardner's Reality Check are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.

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