Robert Lynn Green
- I am a high school English teacher in an urban high school in Oklahoma City. I am a member of the American Federation of Teachers, Local 2309. I am a Democrat, a union activist and a worker for social justice. I also am a Christian (Congregationalist). I play chess and coach our school chess team.
Thursday, July 12, 2007
The Myth of Educational Competition
This is an op-ed piece I have sent to several periodicals in the Oklahoma City area. You have my permission to adapt this and use it in your own arena.
I have been a teacher in the Oklahoma City Public Schools for 14 years, so I keep an eye out for what is said in the local media about education, especially public education. Lately, I have seen many letters, op-ed pieces and editorials trying to revive the idea of taxpayer-funded “vouchers” for private schools. The constant drumbeat in these pieces, most of which come from minions of the Oklahoma Council of Public Affairs, is that by encouraging “school choice” and “competition” between private schools, charter schools, and public schools, we will improve educational opportunities for Oklahoma’s school-age children. The writers argue, “If competition is good for business, then why not for schools?”
Fair enough. However, let us remember that competition can only occur when people or institutions play on a level playing field. If athlete A is allowed to run unfettered while B is required to carry a 40 pound field pack during the race, one can hardly be surprised if A wins most of the races. So why don’t those harping for competition also demand that school compete equally? Let the public schools do as our private and charter school counterparts do.
Let public schools require students to apply for entrance into our schools, and let us screen those who apply rather than take all comers.
Let us require that these students meet academic performance requirements and reject those who don’t measure up.
Let us require that these applying students’ records be free of discipline problems, or admit any “problem children” on the condition that they exhibit good behavior.
Let us turn down “special needs” children if we feel they will require too many modifications, too many resources, or too much money for their care (a major reason why private schools can educate students at lower costs).
Let us require that parents sign contracts requiring that they give 20 hours or more of “volunteer” service to the school or risk having their child expelled from our institutions.
Let us require that once they are admitted to our schools, students must keep their academic performance at a required level or face being expelled without recourse to any mandated due process rights.
Let us require that students conform to all of our rules and codes of conduct or risk expulsion, again without recourse to due process.
Let us administer to special needs children free from federal laws mandating low class sizes (10 or fewer students per class), teacher aides, and special equipment thus eliminating special needs students from the public arena.
Let us be free from the need to administer required state tests or the need to report on our academic results.
Private schools and charter schools do not follow all of the above policies, but all follow several of them. At the very least, all private/charter schools demonstrate what is really meant by “school choice”: the schools get to make the choices. And if the student does not perform, then the school gets to choose to leave the child behind for someone else, the public schools, to pick up the pieces. Public schools, by law, have to honor all students’ right to an education, and they cannot simply kick disruptive children out of our schools. The process for dismissing students from our schools is long and cumbersome because if we send the kids out, there are not too many places, this side of jail, which will take them in.
In light of all this, the surprising fact, shown by study after study, is that when students from similar demographic backgrounds are matched, public schools out perform all other forms of school-age education with the possible exception of home schooling. We do out race them, 40-pound pack and all.
Just remember this the next time you read someone extolling the “virtues” of educational competition.
R. Lynn Green
Oklahoma Centennial High School