In the Meantime, What About Our Schools?

The voucher debate rages on, one side shouting, "Healthy competition!" The other, "Separation of church and state!" I’ve never put much stock in the notion that you could improve the public water supply by investing in Perrier, but personal sentiments aside, what about the bulk of America’s children who will remain in public schools with or without a voucher system?

Realizing that a significant majority of the parents who send their children to public schools believe that schools are doing an adequate job, few would deny they could do better. Last year’s international math and science scores provided yet another painful reminder that America’s school system is nowhere close to perfect. And while some public schools can compete with elite private preparatory academies, others lack the funding for basic textbooks, much less new computer software. Still other districts are awash in funds yet appear unable to improve student performance.

In a word, what can be done to improve public schools? Does anything out there appear to be working?

Begging your pardon for reducing such a complex question to an 800-word column, allow me to share a few insights that will strengthen any public school. The list is by no means exhaustive. It does, however, represent some important steps that can be taken along the road to improvement. I speak as chair of a school district that, though having a per capita income below the state average, boasts the highest standardized test scores in the state.

Involve parents. Studies confirm that the key element to any child’s academic success is parental involvement. Schools should do whatever is necessary to get parents on board. How? The starting point is a frank acknowledgment of who is in charge of a child’s educational upbringing. According to the United States Supreme Court, it is parents, not school bureaucrats.

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Sojourners Magazine November-December 1998
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