Sunday, December 2, 2012

Issue #90 December 2, 2012- Public, Private and Privatization, Economics and Walkergate

Private vs. Privatization…
There has been a lot written about the battle between public and private schools, much of it presenting the conflict as though the two can't exist together.  I know that many of my posts come out in favor of public education over privatization of our educational system.  I believe that there is a significant difference between private education and privatization of education, and one that needs to be mentioned directly here. 

Private schools are a part of the fabric of American educational history.  In fact their history goes back to the beginning of our nation.  For a significant portion of American history the lines between public and private school were easily ignored or virtually non-existent.  Our nation has an interesting educational history that has resulted in the complex and multi-layered system we have today. 

Private schools continue to have a place in our society.  They provide instruction in religious studies that would be unconstitutional in a public school.  They also provide educational options for families and often are part of family traditions.  In short, my issues with private education are not necessarily about the schools themselves. 

My issue lies with the efforts to take public money away from public schools and to funnel it to private schools, voucher schools or charter schools that operate outside the control of local school boards, DPI regulations and other public oversights.  It seems clear to me that if a school/organization takes public money they should immediately fall under the same rules and regulations that public schools operate under.  These schools should have the same consequences that public schools have and be held to the same standards.   

Instead, we are seeing politicians and "education reformers" use the mantras of "choice" and "freedom" to push an agenda that transforms our public education system into a maze of voucher and charter schools that siphon students away from public schools.  The reality is that these privatized schools often don't perform better than the public schools they are replacing, and they also don't serve all students needs.  Students with special learning needs or challenging behaviors are frequently excluded from private education.  These students remain in the public school system and, because there is often a higher cost involved in meeting their needs as well as an impact on test scores, are used to demonstrate that public schools are neither cost effective, nor educationally sound institutions.    

Public and private schools may share the broad category of educational institutions, but in many cases the similarity ends there.  It is important that people recognize the differences and realize that comparisons between public and private schools are often like comparing apples to oranges.  We also should be looking at ways to utilize the strengths of both types of schools in order to make sure that all of our children are getting a quality education.  As a nation we don't put a priority on truly educating all of our citizens and the struggle to find money and resources for education clearly demonstrates this.  Turning our "educational reforms" into a struggle for scarce resources only harms our students and their families. 

Defending Public Education…
As the political and economic climate has changed, we've seen public education and public educators attacked as lazy, incompetent and inefficient.  This has allowed for policy makers to make significant changes in how public educators go about their work and has influenced how the general public views the public schools in their community and the nation as a whole.  

Here in Wisconsin we've experienced a governor and legislature that has taken advantage of the current economic climate to institute a broad range of "reforms" that have negatively impacted public education and educators.  With the results of the recently completed election returning power to the GOP it is likely that we will see even more damaging legislation and policies introduced.  

With all that has happened in Wisconsin in the recent past it would be easy to give up hope and accept the "reforms" as inevitable.  However, we've seen public educators here, and across the nation rally in defense of the profession and the institutions we value so highly.  There is a lot to be proud of in Wisconsin's public educational system (and much work to do as well).    

In the end, the success of our public schools rests on the individual educators, students and families who make up the system.  It is up to us to defend our schools and to protect and preserve our public education system.  Politicians will always seek out issues to serve their needs and we've seen how turning education into a political football has harmed our students and schools.  

I am excited about an initiative that is starting in my school's community.  To date we have had two gatherings with educators, family members and community members to talk about how to advocate for our public schools here in Madison.  We have been working on identifying issues of concern and developing strategies for communicating with others in the community and with policy makers as well.  I see this type of group as an effective way to advocate for our schools and to return control of the "reforms" to those who have the most investment in public education.    

Spend Your Money Wisely…
News Flash….Holiday shopping continues.  Please remember that your dollar is an important weapon in the continuing struggle to create a more socially just and equitable society.

We will continue to see the anti-labor rhetoric take center stage in the mainstream media.  This makes sense because it is the "big-money" corporate interests who control major media outlets.  It allows them to place blame on the workers and on labor unions whenever we face economic difficulties.  However, it is important to remember that criticisms of labor are criticisms of the majority of American citizens.  Those taking the blame are the same people who do the work, spend the money and drive our economy.    

Walmart has become a focal point in the battle between labor and management as well as between small business and large corporate institutions.  While Walmart isn't the only business that engages in such questionable practices, its sheer size and the power of the name make it the most visible of anti-labor (dare I say anti-American) employers.  All consumers should be aware of the labor practices and business policies of businesses they frequent.    

We can't ignore the looming debate over taxes that will occupy legislatures and the national and state levels for the upcoming weeks.  Once again the propaganda machine for the wealthiest Americans will be in full effect and it will take a great amount of careful focus to find where the reality of our economic situation lies.

We continue to follow this story with a mixture of hope and revulsion.  Hope that we may see our current governor pay the price for his lack of ethics.  Revulsion in the apparent level of misconduct and the reality that many would overlook this for the sake of political gain.

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