Getting Schooled Part V: Public Schools

This is the final post in a five part series on school choices.

Part I is an introduction with statistics.

Part II is about Private Schools.

Part III is on Charter Schools.

Part IV covers Homeschooling.

This final part will talk about public schools in the United States, and hopefully dispel some of the myths surrounding the drawbacks of sending your child(ren) there.

The most popular, yet the least supported choice for education in the United States is public schooling.

People choose public schools for a million reasons:

  • It’s free.
  • It accepts everyone.
  • It’s free.
  • There are more options for student involvement.
  • It’s free.
  • They tend to be more diverse than other options.
  • It’s free.
  • There are federally funded programs for struggling families/students.
  • It’s free.
  • There are extra programs for students with special needs.
  • It’s free.

And this list could go on.

School is not a choice in the US; children are compelled to attend school from ages 5-18 (in some states 16).

The choice of what type of schooling is there, but because it is required, the USA provides free school for ALL.

In theory, this should make our country  much  more well-educated than the countries that do not provide education for everyone.  And if we wanted this theory to be true in practice, our public schools should be at the top of every political agenda.

When schools are quality, students produce quality, and thus become quality voting citizens.

Sadly, this is not how public education works in the United States making public choices extremely unequal depending on where you are in the country.

The tricky thing with public schools is that a pro in one area can be a con in another.  Let me give you some examples:

Funding
In a country where all are supposedly equal, the funding of public schools is anything but. Public school funding comes from a wide array of sources including (but not limited to) the federal government, the state government, grants, donations, boosters, etc. and each of these sources tells districts how they may spend each dollar. You can see how this can be problematic. If a community doesn’t support its school district, mils won’t be passed.  If government cuts are made, the dollars aren’t there to pay quality teachers.  If the school doesn’t have parent support, boosters and other fundraising can’t happen.

Test Scores
This is linked to funding.  If a district’s test scores suffer for any reason, government funding can (and in most places will) be cut.

While it’s true that test scores are used to measure how schools (and their teachers) are doing, it’s murky indicator when you consider that ALL STUDENTS are tested. 

United States students routinely score lower than their counterparts in the rest of the world, but that is like comparing apples to tractors.  The rest of the world does not educate every child in their country and then test them the way the United States does. In Germany for instance, after “middle school” age students test to see if they will go on with school or go into a trade.  So when test scores are compared between US 17 year olds and German 17 year olds, they are comparing ALL students (special ed, limited English, regular ed, honors, etc) with just the best.

So you can see how some school districts–those with high special needs students or at risk students–would have lower test scores.  Not because the staff is necessarily “worse” than another district, but because their challenges may be greater.

The District Community
I live in an area of Michigan where one district is considered “amazing” and the next one over is “awful”. It’s not the teaching staff or the curriculum that is any different; it’s the community. It’s the parents.  How the community supports (or doesn’t support) its school district is a huge influence in whether the public schools in an area will be quality.

The state of Public Schooling in the US is something I could write about all day.  I am a public school teacher.  I believe public school works for most kids.  However, all kids are individuals and I think one of the greatest things about our country is the choice that is out there.

My kids will go to public school for as long as it works for their needs.  That could be just preschool, or it could be through 12th grade.

I am grateful to have that choice.