the battle over school choice

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JOIN THE DISCUSSION:  what is needed to build and maintain strong public schools?  is the answer 'school choice'--vouchers, charter schools, and privatizing education

three kids

Dear FRONTLINE,

I think all the candidates are missing the point with this "fixing failing schools" talk. As a science teacher in high school I have found that most of the students that end up failing my clases do so becuase they chose to. My favorite excuse is "I couldn't do the assignment because I had to work so I could pay for my cell phone."

For many of my students learning is not their highest priority. Until then I'll do my best for those that want to learn and continue trying with with the rest. The final result is that I can't make a student learn. I can only give them the opportunity, but the choice is still theirs.

Gary Baier
Green Bay, WI

Dear FRONTLINE,

The issue of failing schools in America has been with us for quite some time now. ...We have thrown untold billions of dollars at this problem for the better part of 20 years without addressing the real issue here: teacher and parent accountability. It is not rocket science we are discussing here. Does a kid, regardless of economic background, feel empowered and excited to learn in an environment conducive to learning? The answer is yes. Research already backs this up. Does a teacher, properly educated and trained in the profession, regardless of economic background, feel empowered and excited to help those kids to attaing their educational goals?

Herein lies the problem. There is basically no accountability from the Teacher's Union nor the Parent's Teacher Association, nor by government, nor by the community whatsoever in regards to this basic tenant: If federal/state funds are to be spent without regards to accountability and individual responsibility, how are we as a society, as a nation, to expect anything else but what we face currently, the ongoing erosion of American Educational Standards in regards to the rest of the world. How many loteries were enacted with the simple catch phrase "helps our schools..." to wit we continue to produce illiterate graduates whose grasp of understanding of American History, English, and Math are the equivalent of a mediocre Junior High education. Pretty sad state of affairs given only thirty percent of our population even bothers to vote anymore.

Bottom line here is, hold teachers and parents, the community as a whole, responsible for those funds granted to them by the Federal/State agencies, assuring once and for all that everyone has a stake and interest in the succesful education of our kids.

Lionel Q
Antioch, CA

Dear FRONTLINE,

I think educational leaders should be consulted strictly. There is a lot of opinion. Dorothy Moore and her husband of the Moore Institute have a wealth of information. Bloom's pertinent research is still being ignored by people trying to do things the easy, but not so efficient way. Please, consult experts.

Kaylene Valenzuela

Dear FRONTLINE,

Pogo said,"We have met the enemy and he is us." The problems of public schools are cultural, political,social and personal. The fractured "family" of morality, ethics, and values within our society are no longer of common interest.
Selfishness, mistrust,laziness, blaming, and irresponsibilty have replaced them.
With no common vision among people, public schools are taking the fall. Few people will look at the real reasons why.

Stan Wexler
Phila., Pa.

Dear FRONTLINE,

I am in favor of school vouchers, and anything that increases competition. When people complain about public schools, the answer if always the same. " If only we had more money. " We spend more per child than any other country, and yet I feel the results don't justify the money spent.


I am not an academic, with a vested interest in bigger budgets every year, but I work in industry. It is sad to see a High School graduate struggle with basic reading and math.

Mike Simms
Columbus, Ohio

Dear FRONTLINE,

yes - we must talk about the race and class differences. Japan and other ethnic -same- countries have a National vital interest in excelling.

Differences in America have lent itself to cultural awareness as being more important than academic achievement

Richard Stewart

Dear FRONTLINE,

The answer to our failing schools, to me, is very, very simple. Untie the hands of admin and teachers so discipline can be used to enable teachers to teach. It's the kids who are trouble who need to attend school elsewhere. Private schools are able to discipline-public schools are not!!!!!

Also pay teachers what they deserve--this would attract more male teachers and help discipline. Teachers are expected to be a teacher, a nurse, a guidance couselor, a psychologist,neighborhood mediators, police, social worker and parent. Yes, parent. Teachers must teach manners, self respect, respect for others, grooming etc.

I am contemplating leaving the teaching profession because i want to teach. Between the discipline problems, our acceptance of mediocricy, and teach for the test which means crame this material into the children for the test w/out caring if it is retained is our gov't directive. It is a mess.

We have dedicated teachers who want nothing more than to be able to teach and i am one. Because i had to follow gov't directives i felt very guilty that my children had to leave me without the skills they need to survive in this world.

Mary Brotling

Dear FRONTLINE,

We know what works, why aren't we doing it? The Japanese improved their childrens' educational needs. We honor a few teachers across the country every year, why? Because they did an exceptional and unique job of teaching.

Year after year we have neglected our schools,teachers and our childrens' needs and now we ask why things are so bad. If we truly want improvements lets go to the heart of the matter. Set up a panel of our top teachers and students not some bunch of researchers, politians,etc.} and get the job done....

I have 17 grandchildren in school and college. In our family we have 1 retired teacher and 1 young lady in college training to become a teacher. We also have 1 principal and 3 teachers...They all work long hours.

School is not out at 3 p.m. nor are weekends off. Most educators attend sport or academic games to support their students. They also must make up lesson plans, correct papers, take phone calls and buy supplies. It takes dedication to be a real teacher. Why can't we support them and our children ?

janet scaruffi
metairie, la

Dear FRONTLINE,

I am a parent and a school board member. I have seen what the difference in changing priorities and funding has done for my district. We have raised results, both on standardized testing and Regents NYS tests in a matter of 7 years by having more demands, more support and more funding...

In my district, approx. 1/3 of the budget goes to educate about 15% of the students, due to very strict and very important laws regarding services to the handicapped students. I have no problem with this in concept, but in reality, the placements at BOCES and other special ed. schools are raising at an alarming rate 20% and more each year with no regulations from the governor and Board of Regents, State Ed. etc. This costs every child in the state in terms of what the rest of them can receive.

Secondly, some very severly disabled students can cost a district over $100,000 per year, including tuition and busing. We bus one student 20 minutes each way and it costs $48k a year. Why doesn't the state and county pick up more of these expenses and try to offer less expensive alternatives?...

Vicki Alspector
Lynbrook, NY

Dear FRONTLINE,

I believe vouchers are long overdue! My last child just graduated from a private school. I wanted her in an environment that was geared toward a good education and not have to be wondering what my child was being taught or not being taught...

She was held accountable each day for her behavior and academic responsibilities. She was not allowed to go to school looking as though she were going to a strip tease show. She in my opinion was safe on the campus each day without the fear of being raped or killed...I am eager to see if school vouchers will change the face of the public schools.

Bonnie Vandenboom

Dear FRONTLINE,

As a retired public school teacher of 40 years, I see very little hope for public schools. College and University research has not helped. Most new programs are futile. Teachers are ill prepared to deal with the problems with which they are presented. Unless there is a committment to build a foundation for a child's educational career beginning in kindergarten and first grade, then we need to scrape public funded education as we know it. Children do not survive in our public schools if they do not have the tools for learning by the time they get to second grade. It is failure and trouble for most children if they can't read, write, spell and do math comfortably by the time they enter second grade. Most monies are directed to remediation, not to building a foundation to succeed in life skills.

Bill Garrison
Pegram, Tennessee

Dear FRONTLINE,

This is not abut vouchers, rather about the general view of public schools. I lived in Cleveland, OH for 37 years. Cleveland was the main city discussed in the program.
It seems to be the consensus that these schools are not providing an appropriate education for children.
How many people are aware of the federal law IDEA which requires public schools to provid a free, APPROPRIATE education to disabled children? These school districts are enrolling physically & mentally handicapped children into schools which cannot even educate the "normal" children.
These children in & near Cleveland have appropriate schools, but they are not being used. Is money involved? You bet your life!!!!

Mary Conroy

Dear FRONTLINE,

I strongly agree with the previous comments that what passes as parenting these days is at least as responsible for the decline in achievement in American Schools.

I also believe our system encourages mediocrity. That is, we are working so hard to get to the students at the bottom and we should be, that we are forgetting about the students at the top. Gifted students are seriously neglected in our current system. Our highest potential students are not frequently not given the opportunity to reach their fullest potential. By the time they are old enough to be taking these standardized tests so often cited, they are turned off and unmotivated; the decline overall in test scored can almost certainly be attributed, at least in part, to a decline in the scores of our brightest students.

The solution to this part of the problem is simple, if not pc. Give these students the opportunity to learn with other bright learners, at their own pace, and in greater depth. Ability grouping and multiage classes are relatively easy ways to provide this. If a student has already mastered the curriculum, he should be provided with something new to learn; why should we expect these kids to excel when we give them so little opportunity?


Sara Little

Dear FRONTLINE,

I commend you for taking on this critical topic, unfortunately your program offers more sobering testimony on the fallen standards of journalism than the fallen standards of public education. A few observations:

1 Your coverage was much more forthcoming about the political constituencies supporting rather than opposing vouchers. Who are these opponents? But for an oblique reference to unions in a Gore speach toward the end of the hour, no meaningful light was shed on the issue.

2 There was no substantive analysis of the money involved in the controversy, at any level, including political funding, tuition coverage or operational structure. If a voucher provides less per student funding for an alternative school program, does that free more money for the public school system? Does a "not for profit" program generate significant profits for ancillary organizations such as janitorial and maintenance services? What rank do the education unions hold among the Democrats' funding sources? Which represents the bigger monopoly, the public school system or the Windows Operating system? Somewhere beneath your program's tall thicket of anecdotal evidence, you might find a musty old journalistic chestnut about the importance in investigative inquiries of following the money.

3. Your program repeatedly referred to "religious" teaching in the Catholic schools, but it never once referenced the values taught within that system. While dwelling on the compassion that is central to the educational approach of the Austin pilot program student loses mother and friend in separate car accidents, your program failed to make mention of the respect for humankind that is the essence of Catholic teaching. Parents repeatedly stated that their children were safer in Catholic schools schools that were not necessarily located in safer neighborhoods. Is it possible that the children's safety owed more to the message than to the metal detectors?

4 Is there a contradiction when politicians oppose private schools because they siphon off students who arguably come from the most educationally conscious families thereby depleting the public school system of potential achievers, when those same politicians favor charter schools?

5 Your program says that the studies on the relative merits of voucher programs have been "anything but conclusive." This elegant construction fails to convey that there have been multiple studies, that have provided CONFLICTING results that have in several cases been anything but inconclusive. The question has been one of politics; the sponsoring organization tends to get the results it desires.

And, alas, it has always been about politics. Our primarily non-Catholic private colleges and universities have long received government funding without a syllable of protest from any quarter. But then, those could hardly be said to represent the same threat to the commonweal as Catholic parochial schools serving destitute, urban neighborhoods whose families have been deprived for decades of real educational opportunity for their children.


John Delaney
San Francisco, CA

Dear FRONTLINE,

In all honesty I was greatly disappointed with "The Battle Over School Choice" in terms of its presentation and the expectation of objectivity and comprehensive coverage.

I got together with my friend specifically to watch this show on Tuesday night, in order to learn more about school vouchers and the pros and cons of all sides of the debate, because we are future educators and interested students--however, both of us felt the reporting was quite narrow in its focus, there was uneven discussion of the pro and anti-voucher arguments, the documentary itself was jumpy and unsatisfying in information, and the promotion of George W. Bush's education achievements was almost shameless.

There was something wanting--perhaps more examples of communities across the country, actual reporting on public schools that are working, deeper investigation of how vouchers might damage the institution of public education itself, voices from students and teachers, and an exploration of the serious race and class implications within this national debate.

In reference to the outcry for parents of the "lower" schools to care about their children's education and get more involved, I believe we must be realistic instead of saying there is no hope for public schools without complete parental support. Certainly this involvement is ideal in the development of our education, but we must understand that educators do and must play the part of the family that is missing in many children's lives. At the same time we must understand that neglectful parents likely were neglected students themselves, and gradually they must learn themselves how their involvement is vital to success.

It seems naive to demand that our society change, and irresponsible to hope that fleeing to private schools is the answer.

I cannot agree more with Rudy Crew and others who point to those who are left behind, the subsequent fate of the public school system after vouchers allow the more encouraged students to attend private schools.

I wrote an article in my high school newspaper last year about the resegregation of our schools, how the wealthier, mostly white and more involved families patronize the catholic schools and smaller expensive private schools, while the mostly lower class students of color seem stuck in neglected public schools, which have much potential but are still plagued with problems.

My own experience showed me how dangerous this is for Oakland, how racism and stereotypes are only perpetuated by the division in schooling. There is a tension between classes and races, a tension that can be worsened by a further flight to private schools, an abandonment of the less fortunate of us who have no encouragement to reach higher, who will only be pushed harder into failure. Vouchers are indeed dangerous, and public education simply cannot afford to be neglected any further--


Lailan Huen
Oakland, CA

Dear FRONTLINE,


What the rest of America and apparently Frontline itself needs to realize is that any real, lasting public school reform has to involve teachers. Nowhere in your program did you interview a teacher about this issue. This is the perfect evidence of the problems with public education in our country; the people that work closest with children, those that know what works and what doesn't, those that are entrusted with this nation's children are ignored. When there is talk of real school reform it must include teachers or it is sure to fail.

Michael Cole
Rio Rancho, New Mexico

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