The media tell you that other nations have higher test scores than ours and that they are shooting past us in the race for global competitiveness. The pundits say it's because our public schools are overrun with incompetent, lazy teachers who can't be fired and have a soft job for life.
Don't believe it. It's not true.
Since the 1840s, our public schools have been a bulwark of our democratic society. Over time, they have opened their doors to every student in the community regardless of that student's race, religion, language, disability, economic standing, or origin. No one has to enter a lottery to gain admission.
With this openness, there is a price to be paid: Our public school teachers have one of the most difficult jobs in society. Their classes include children who are recent immigrants, many of whom don't speak or read English; they include children who have social, emotional, mental, and physical disabilities; they include children who live in desperate poverty.
Instead of seeking equitable funding, Congress decided that it would impose a massive program of school reform based on standardized testing. The new law required states to test every child in reading and math from grades three through eight. The theory behind NCLB was that teachers and schools would try harder and see rapid test score gains if their test results were made public.
Charter schools on average do not produce better academic results than regular public schools. As charters proliferate, regular public schools lose students and funding, and many charters try to avoid the students who are most costly and difficult to educate. Merit pay has failed again and again.
What we will lose, if we move in that direction, is public education. Just as every neighborhood should have a good police station and firehouse, every neighborhood should also have a good public school.
It is worth remembering that the reason we first established public education was to advance the common good of the community. It began in small towns, where communities agreed that all the children should be educated for the good of all and the sake of the future. Public schools have a civic mission: They are expected to prepare young people to become citizens and to share in the responsibility of maintaining our society. As political forces tear them apart, creating opportunities for entrepreneurs and for profit, it diminishes our commonwealth. That is a price we must not pay.
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Hay una expresión que se usaba como eslogan del liberalismo, y que a mí me encanta: "igualdad de oportunidades".