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

Dear FRONTLINE,

Absolutely not!

The idea of free public education for the masses is one of the cornerstones of the whole structure of our American democracy. To take any funds that might be used to improve the public schools and divert them to the private schools is to undermine what our ancestors fought and died to establish.


Those who decry the state of public education should turn their efforts not toward private alternatives, but toward improving our existing public education system.

Cary Foster
Clarkston, Georgia

Dear FRONTLINE,


The single most important reform that could be made in public education is almost never discussed: reduce the amount of time teachers teach in order to increase the amount of time available for planning and evaluating student learning. Almost as important is reducing the total number of students that each teacher is responsible for in a given semester.

The logic is simple. The more time a teacher has to plan and evaluate, the more efficienct and effective his lessons will become. Reducing the number of students per teacher means that a given teacher will have more time to spend with each student.

Until the "teacher-time issue" is resolved, all public education reforms will necessarily fail. No other single issue is more crucial to education reform.


Tom Jarrett
Whitney, TX

Dear FRONTLINE,

I appreciated such an informative program. As mentioned above, more teacher input would have rounded out the program.

I grew up in Washington D.C. and went to public and private catholic schools there through the 1970s. Growing up, we looked at Wilson High School as a good school as many of the graduates went to good colleges. What happened??!! Last night's special made real how far our country's education system has fallen.

Here in San Francisco, the school district is woefully in the red while the city and state enjoy a huge surplus. Indeed, Porshe Boxters, $25 entrees and live-work condos that pay reduced, if any, school taxes seem easier to find than enough books for public schools. More resources with accountability along with real innovation in education is required.

Chris Wilkinson
San Francisco, California

Dear FRONTLINE,

As a credentialed California math teacher who has been teaching for six years it was nice to see an in depth TV show on education.

I am concerned though that once again the people who have direct control over improving education, the teachers, have been left out. The television program featured more than one principal and yet I cannot find a single one of their interviews on Frontline's website. The program also failed to interview a single classroom teacher.

As J. Stigler and J Hiebert have pointed out in their book "Teaching Gap", better education will only come from better teaching in the classroom and improving the quality of teaching should be the focus of any reform effort. If the Japanese can improve their educational system by supporting educational change designed by teachers maybe it's time to help U.S. teachers share the teaching strategies that they know work.Including a current teacher's viewpoint in any media piece on education would be a good start.

Alexander Hester
Union City, CA

Dear FRONTLINE,

I strongly feel that sending a child to a private school whether catholic or otherwise is a privilege. Yes, I know that this heightens the gap between the "have's" and "have-not's", but the basic fact is that private schools are better because there is a sacrifice made by a family most of the kids in private schools are from middle class backgrounds.
To 'give' the money to poorer people will not ensure success. These parent's HAVE to find a way to become more involved in their kids education. Any excuses to argue otherwise are simply not our problem. If you want your child to succeed, then see it through on your own... Remember that it's your child, not mine, not the government's, etc....
sincerely chris tuell,
greenwood, in.

chris tuell
greenwood, indiana

Dear FRONTLINE,


As a former public school teacher, former school board member and former community college trustee I have faced many of public education's problems, and often met only denial and resistance from too many of my colleagues who want only to blame others and cling to the status quo. We can't even get a charter school bill passed in this state to broaden public choices!

Here is only one of the many problems: leadership in the teaching profession is pathetically shortsighted, demanding more money only for salaries never for anything else and fighting the testing of students and new teachers as accountability measures. No other educational issue ever tops their agenda, and respect is equated to their wages, not their behavior.

Too many teachers were poor students themselves, are not lifelong learners and do not respect learning, so they pass on what they know which in too many cases is not much. Given the number of classrooms which must be staffed throughout the country, both public and private, we can hardly expect them all to be Rhodes scholars. BUT...from professionals we should be able to expect a professional attitude. Often, that vital ingredient is missing and a hostile downward spiral accelerates.

If the profession does not want to improve, the students cannot, and no voucher or charter or wishing will ever make it so.

Nora Porter

Dear FRONTLINE,

As a teacher in both public and private schools for the last five years, I agree with you that parents need to be more in charge of their childrenís education, all children deserve a good education, and good teachers need to be encouraged to enter and remain in the profession. The current trend toward alternative schools can offer parents the ability to direct their childís education, and the possibility of increasing teacher salaries could swell our ranks with highly qualified individuals who are currently being swept into higher paid professions. It is a good beginning. The measure of the success through standardized testing is the only flaw. Standardized testing encourages memorization of fact and teaching toward the test, rather than learning to make connections and gain knowledge, and teaching to satisfy the studentís needs. The governmentís inherent desire to govern from the top down and enforce universal standards flies in the face of good education, where there is a need to start with what each student and their family need to accomplish in order to satisfy their particular goal. An equally important realization is that in this information age, the memorization of facts is less important than knowing where to find them and how to put them together to make sense. By continuing to insist that standardized tests, with the emphasis on memorization and the universal knowledge format, be the only measure of success, the progress in achieving a good education for each individual is severely compromised.

Darcie Smith
Reno, Nevada

Dear FRONTLINE,

In all the program not one person mentioned the waste of billions of dollars that go to the Dept of War. A few less tanks and planes and there would be pleanty of money for social needs. I do not wish to have my taxes going to support private schools. The money must go to Public Schools to build them up. Money to teachers. To build and miantaine schools. An educated new generation is the greatest defence, better then guns.

frank schiavone
lauderdale, fl.

Dear FRONTLINE,

As a student of a public school which has been degrading for the past ten years due to changes in demographics The minority flood into the city there are a few things I'd like to point out.
Firstly, our public schools are failing as a result of students who lack the will to achueve. Problems in school which are so often blamed on administrators or teachers actually are the fault of students who have no desire to do well in school. This is a problem which parents must deal with at home...
However, on a positive note, a person of low income such as myself can get a really good public school education.
Secondly, the liberal establishment in teaching has really doen a disservice to kids by sacrificing that which is core material, for that which is considered "enlightening." I agree that schools should be a place where creativity and artistry are fostered, but there is no excuse for trading in Dickens for Stephen King or trading in mozart for whatever music is popular at the moment.

Thirdly, teachers aren't paid enough. Some exclusiveness in teaching would pay off by getting rid of the riff raff teachers.
Fourthly, schools are no longer places of education but are mating grounds on which teenagers search for sexual partners. A real feeling that it is a place of learning needs to be fostered.
In the episode tonight, dilapidated schools were shown. Such places do not inspire creative works nor foster hard work and discipline.
Vouchers are a good idea becuase it would increase the chances that a student like myself could attend a better school. The Public education system must improve to a point where vouchers are totally unnecessary.

Carusoe Park
Downey, California

Dear FRONTLINE,


...We get what we expect, and we haven't expected much.Learning takes hard work and practice, diligence and commitment.
Have the public schools across the board encouraged all of their students in these areas? Or is it just too much to ask and demand? Have we taken the easier way out with social promotion, and the myriad of excuses that are given for poor performance?

Here is a question to ponder:
When we hear of a significant success stories such as that of Marva Collins in Chicago, or the math teacher in California who brought his Hispanic students to the forefront when it was thought impossible to do so, or of principals like Joe Brown and others who transform entire student bodies, and on and on, why doesn't the "educational establishment" rush to demand that school districts imitate and learn from what has worked so effectively??? I would like to know the answer to that one!We know what works, why aren't we doing it?

Stephenie Paquette
Indianapolis, Indiana

Dear FRONTLINE,

There is an interesting article on this website from the Atlantic Monthly about the myths that persist on both sides of the issue about education reform.

The most important point in the article is that the ideal for which we strive--superior teachers unfettered by political whims coupled with total egalitarianism and equal standards and opportunities in the classroom for poor children as well as rich has never been achieved, but that in the last 30 years we have gotten much closer than any civilization at any time in the history of the world.

France, Germany, Japan, Singapore all have public education systems that are built around and by societies that are uncomparitavely homogeneous. They have cultures that are very different from ours. Our public educators must not only teach math, science, English to a large numbers of students who barely speak the language and history, but also teach students from all over the world, from a broad range of economic and cultural backgrounds, and do it in a politically charged environment.

There are those who have vigorously fought to take religion out of our schools, but perhaps the only way to truly get at what it is we seem to want is to also take politics out of it. The only way to do that is to end the control of state legislatures and other publicly elected officials over curriculum, budgets, management, and the hiring and firing of teachers.

Let's give the private sector a chance to innovate and find solutions to the problem and allow a profit motive--within reason and with guidelines of course-- but there may not be any other way.

Jeff Jarrard

Dear FRONTLINE,


I would like to see an in-depth report n the initiatives sponsored by these individuals claiming to be reformers in Education. The one single factor in a successful school is "Parental Involvement." If it doesn't exist, you have the first prblem identified.

The "double edge sword", as parental involvement is known as, does have its flaws. Grades for instance; if a teacher uses homework as a tool for grading then the child with minimal parental support will surely have lower grades than the child who has homework checked and concepts reviewed by an adult.

The fallacy of the "digital divide" is a Capitalist attempt to generate revenue and confuse "skill instruction" with teaching concepts. We have trained primates to use keyboards. The mathematical concepts associated with computer technology do not require a cmputer; otherwise Mr. Gates and his colleauges could not have succeded as they have.

As a Georgian I am sensitive about refrm due to our current situation. Professional Educators have rooms full of lngitudenal research that say we are moving away from the child centered approach to educating. They are silenced by Philanthropist, Land Developers, and a host of other committee members not educated in the field of childhood education. Take a look at the cmposition of the different cmmitttes. I have fund "Motivational Speakers, Real Estate Agents, and other professionals not qualified to make sound decisions about educational issues.

Intelligent, informed questions based on research and experience will reveal a whole new side to the intent of many reform issues.

Lester Pyle
Midland, Georgia

Dear FRONTLINE,

If our presidential candidates were honest, they would tell us to learn the names of our state legislators and tell them we want our public schools well-funded without differences between poorer school districts and richer ones.

What our presidents CAN do is to refrain from foreign meddling, reduce our defense budget from Cold War magnitudes to that needed for anti-terrorism, and allow the states a greater tax-base for meeting their educational responsibilities.

What our states can do is require that no teacher at ANY level be licensed who does not have a MAJOR in an academic discipline. Be rid of the education majors! Even kindergarten teachers should be required a full major in an academic subject, and I don't mean Math-, English-, History-, Science-for Educators. I mean the same courses required of other majors in those fields. Reduce the Education Departments in colleges to offering minors only, not majors.

Finally, return to the Constitution and stop using tax revenues to send children to religious schools. Religious schools are authoritarian; they inculcate conformity to their beliefs. They are not places for the development of free thought but for the confinement of it. If that's how some people wish their children "educated", fine, but let's not have the taxpayer pay for it.

Alvin D. Hofer

Dear FRONTLINE,

Private Catholic Schools are successful because of their religious teaching and training and the support of the parents through volunteering and monetary contributions. Parishioners with no children in school also are dedicated to Catholic education and contribute in like manner. Catholic Schools accept underprivileged children, but the parents are expected to volunteer their time to the school and their child. A voucher in hand does not guarantee a child's success. Like the Sister said, "We make no apologies for Catholic religious teaching." If parents cannot accept the religious teachings, they should take their voucher elsewhere. One problem with public schools is lack of parental involvement

Mary Maenhout

Dear FRONTLINE,

Speaking as an educator who works with a tough group of kids, the answer to education is not vouchers.

Public schools have an advantage. They have more money than private schools,which means a variety of courses can be offered to the children. Public schools can pay more than private schools, therefore they have a better selection of teachers.

Discipline is the answer! Both parents and students need to be held accountable for their actions. When the public schools get support from their government to stop kids who constantly disrupt the learning process, then a great transformation will take place.
In my school, teachers spend more time managing behavior problems than they do teaching. That is the problem.

Jake George

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