Milli Pierce is the director of the Principals' Center and a faculty member in the Learning and Teaching area at the Harvard Graduate School of Education. Here, she offers her prognosis for the No Child Left Behind Act's perspective on school choice and charter schools.
Once again "the sky is falling," and rather than solve the problems that exist in public education, the government wants to give parents a pass to get out. But where does that pass lead? In his new education bill, President Bush offers funding that encourages parents to take their children out of struggling public schools and place them in charter schools instead.
Unfortunately, charter schools have not been the universal, overwhelming success parents anticipated 10 years ago. On the contrary, inadequate funding has overtaxed and undermined charter school administrators and teachers; a sizable number have quit in frustration, further destabilizing the schools. It is not surprising, given that climate, that charter school students' test scores and achievement profiles have been largely lackluster. Few parents have found the panacea they were seeking.
It is time for President Bush to place the resources of the U.S. government behind efforts that improve needy public schools rather than denigrating them and draining their funds to create a series of new, similarly underfunded schools. This tactic avoids rather than addresses problems. The president of a conservative policy research foundation recently itemized for me all the failings of public schools. When I asked him why the resources that go into studying these problems are not matched by an investment in solving public school problems, he had no answer.
No wonder parents involved in failing schools want out. Every child deserves to be in a highly functioning school. This is possible without sending parents in search of an alternative that may not be better. If President Bush wants to provide economically disadvantaged students with high-performing schools, he should face the socioeconomic and political issues that enshroud the schoolyard before the children show up for their classes. Until that happens, he'll continue to leave many children behind.
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