High vs. Low (formerly Public vs. Private)
Update 8/3/07: Dear Readers: Thank you for your thoughtful comments. What a tricky issue this is. As readers' remarks made me think about this even more closely, I had to revise my words to clarify my ideas. While the original discussion revolved around public and private schools, what I hadn't explicitly written was that I solely meant low-performing public schools. So really, the discussion is about, when having a choice, if parents would send their children to local low-performing schools or high-performing schools elsewhere. The changes are marked in italics. Thanks for the comments-- keep them coming!
That's the question our politicians were grilled over during that groundbreaking discussion with the public. And while I scoff at its shallowness, the question (and the politicians' defensive and cautiously crafted responses) digs at an issue we have all probably considered at one point or another: Public or private? Or more specifically, whether we would send them to a high or low performing school. (This is not to suggest "public" is synonymous to "under-performing". There are thousands of high-achieving public schools in the country.)
I am not yet a parent, but do intend to be, one day in the long, faraway future. After teaching for two years and being surrounded by students I have adopted in my heart as my own, I've spent more time thinking about my one-day-in-the-way-future children than is probably normal. I've collected books I'd want to read to my one-day children, devised behavior strategies, and debated whether I would send them to local low-performing schools.
As a product of U.S. public schools (even at the graduate school level), I am proud of our system. From my (very limited) vantage point, I can only imagine working long-term at under-resourced public schools. I am committed to closing the achievement gap no matter where I am in the field, and truly believe it can be, will be and must be done ASAP.
That said, I would have a hard time sending my children to an under-performing public school, AKA a school I would likely work at. Even if it meant spending more money and/or driving longer distances, I think would try to send my children to a higher performing school, even if it was a private school, charter school, or a school in a different district.
I am very wary about writing those few lines. I feel like they make my motives to teach very disingenuous. How can I possibly believe in closing the achievement gap if I won't even send my own (one-day) children there? And how can I possibly be an active member of my community (one of the greatest joys and necessities as a teacher) if I'm not willing to participate in it as a parent? Having only ever attended public schools, I value their diverse people, ideas and opportunities. I grew from their limitations. I have countless peers who attended low-performing public schools and who have developed into high-performing scholars, thinkers and problem solvers.
Yet, I can't get over the fact that a strong education, both at home and at school, is so critical at all stages in life. Good teaching is central in pushing people's learning. Low-performing schools are likelier to be one's traditional, local public schools since individuals have a choice among private and charter schools, and would logically opt for the high-performing schools. I am concerned about mixing my mission to improve schools with my (one day) children's development.
And yet, I can't get past the sinking feeling when I hear of a family sending their child to a "better" school, whether it's a high-performing public/charter or private school. Each child who leaves the system takes away with him/her countless learning experiences that could have been shared with others. How can our schools improve if we don't invest our energy and commitment to the community we belong to?
I have a feeling this is a debate I'll be waging with myself (and my one-day husband) for years to come.
I was wondering what (current and one-day) parents think about this issue. High or low?