YOUNG VOICES: I am proof that public education is not a failure

2012-10-08T00:00:00Z 2012-10-08T14:56:04Z YOUNG VOICES: I am proof that public education is not a failureBy Beatriz Costa-Lima
October 08, 2012 12:00 am  • 

It seems that across the country, public schools are being attacked and teachers are being vilified. Politicians champion aggressive reform that essentially dismantles public education in order to replace it with a privatized education systems.

But why? Why is there a trend of hatred toward public education?

Politicians, such as Indiana’s Superintendent of Public Instruction Tony Bennett, push for charter schools. However, evidence does not support this idea. Stanford University's Center for Research on Education Outcomes released a national peer-reviewed study in 2009 of charter schools in 15 states and DC. The findings demonstrated that “on average, charter school students can expect to see their academic growth be somewhat lower than their traditional public school peers, though the absolute differences are small.”

Thirty-seven percent of charter schools in the study saw learning gains that were significantly worse than their public school equivalents, and charter schools are twice as likely to make student achievement worse as they are to improve it.

Additionally, a 2011 study from Mathematica Policy Research and the Center on Reinventing Public Education, found that charter schools on average performed at the same level as public schools. Or, to bring it closer to home, students at Chicago charter schools (which are publicly funded schools that are run by private corporate entities) scored at the same level as students across the district, Catalyst Chicago reported.

If public schools are so detrimental to education, then please explain how schools like Crown Point and Lake Central and Munster exist. In fact,  according to the 2009 National Assessment of Educational Progress, in the 10 "right to work" states, students scored lower the national median on NAEP tests.

Then there is the vilification of teachers, which seems to be guided by a misconception that teachers are money-hungry monsters whose only goal is to fatten their salaries as much as possible. I think it is safe to say that just about no one goes into teaching to make money. If someone wanted to get rich, they would have majored in something else while in college because it is a standard fact that teachers are not going to be making it rich.

According to a report released by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development, American teachers spend on average between 1,050 and 1,100 hours teaching each year. Across the OECD, the average is 794 hours on primary education, 709 hours on lower secondary education, and 653 hours on upper secondary education general programs.

However, despite working more hours an American teacher with 15 years of experience makes a salary that is 96 percent of the country’s gross domestic product per capita. Across the OECD, a teacher of equivalent experience makes 117 percent of GDP per capita, according to the OECD report.

It is also important to note that the 2012 OECD Education at a Glance report showed that use of “standardized-test results for evaluating and paying teachers is very rare, as it is not even mentioned as one of the top 16 uses of testing data,” American Federation of Teachers President Randi Weingarten said in a press release.

Are there underperforming and even failing schools? Yes. Is reform needed? Yes. But, the idea that public schools and teachers are at fault is ridiculous. Successful public schools exist in part because of strong communities and parent involvement. Most underperforming schools occur in broken communities, where community reform is needed along with education reform in order to see any real progress.

While a push for charter schools would cut costs, it would not improve education.

I went to a public school, and I turned out just fine. I had incredible teachers who taught me more than I can imagine. I am living proof that public education is not a failure.

Beatriz Costa-Lima of Munster is a freshman at the University of Missouri. The opinion expressed in this column is the writer's and not necessarily that of The Times.

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