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What If School Were a Privilege?

A free K-12 education is a right in the U.S.  Students in Sub-Saharan, Central and Eastern Asian countries are not nearly as fortunate.  They are forced to endure severe hardships to receive an education.  That's why I find the attitude of so many parents and students here appalling  ("An App Helps Teachers Track Student Attendance," The New York Times, Jan. 24).

Whether violation of the right is manifested in chronic absenteeism, tardiness, disrespect, or disruption, the issue is the same:  So much time, effort and money are spent on those who don't appreciate what is being done for them.  I realize that there are legitimate reasons beyond the control of some parents and students for their behavior.  But I believe that taxpayers' patience is nearing its end.

I'm not talking about test scores, which are an entirely different matter.  Instead, I'm referring strictly to the attitude about a free education.  This was reflected in one parent's demand not to be bothered receiving messages about truancy or tardiness.  How in the world can teachers be expected to impress upon their students the importance of their education when their own parents don't care?

Which leads to the next question.  What if education were a privilege instead of a right?  Would adopting a policy of parental choice require a commitment that is lacking when education is treated exclusively as a right?  Yes, we should expand funding where it is needed the most ("Crumbling, Destitute Schools Threaten Detroit's Recovery," The New York Times, Jan. 20).  But no matter how much money is spent, unless parents take ultimate responsibility to see that their children get to school prepared to learn, I think the right to a free education will be squandered.

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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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