Robert A. Teegarden's Blog

February 19, 2010

Private-Public Schools

In the 1992 somewhat dark, crypto-comedy, Sneakers, good-guy Marty (Robert Redford) is caught in the lair of bad-guy gangster Cosmo (Ben Kingsley). After a nostalgic rehash of old dreams (they were once classmates), Cosmo confronts Marty with what’s wrong with this country. “It’s money.” Cosmo goes on to say that “We have pollution, crime, disease, immorality, despair, that we throw gobs of money at them, yet things only get worse. Why?” Cosmo says he learned why. “Everything in this world operates not on reality, but on the perception of reality.”

This couldn’t be truer than in American education.

A recent article, Inside School Research article, points this out so very well. Its premise is this:

“There are private schools and then there are private public schools. We’ve all come across the latter. These are public schools that enroll so few students from low-income families that they might as well be called private.

Simply stated, private schools don’t education students from low-income families. That’s why they’re called “private.” Somehow ‘private’ and ‘poverty’ have become oxymorons in the American lexicon of educational objectives; the twain shall never meet. But again, the facts don’t support that presumption.

This article demonstrates so well the problem with the names that have been given to America’s educational institutions and the historical myths that have grown up around them. What makes a public school “public?” What makes a private school “private?” If the label is based on who (really) runs them, then public schools are really union schools and private schools are, well, private. If the name is based on who is served, then public schools are public and private schools are public. If the moniker is based on goals and outcomes, the facts about private schools put the public perceptions to shame.

Government schools don’t necessarily do the “best” of the government’s intentions just because they’re called “public” or run by the unions. Private schools, likewise, just because they’re called “private” doesn’t mean they don’t serve the public very well. Heck, their parents are part of the larger public on April 15th each year. Why are their kids not considered part of that “public” when they attend private schools? The arguments about whether a school is “public” (government) or private are just too simple anymore. We need to get beyond the politically-correct perception of reality and myths to look at the facts and judge accordingly. Some schools have become iatrogenic–they have become the source of the very problems they were designed to remedy.

The characterization of “private” schools in the recent Flypaper piece on America’s Private Public Schools is a case in point. The presumptions drawn from popular opinion, the descriptors gleaned from union tracts and the conclusions cited seemingly from history all characterize America’s private schools as “enclaves of the rich”, select communities that fail to serve America’s broader communities (or the noble goal of uniformity), or separatist defense zones. Nothing could be further from the truth. I think the authors juxtapose these examples (almost tongue in cheek) in order to shake the government-school tree and supposedly help them realize that there are so-called “public” schools in their midst/mix that live on the taxes of all, discriminate against poorer kids (due to zoning covenants—nothing personal) and fail in Horace Mann’s ideal of serving the wider community of America’s youngsters somehow uniformly. As obvious is that conclusion for the government schools is the false dichotomy in painting all private schools as Choates or Sidwell Friends. They’re simply not. This kind of sketch, while seeking to dispel the notion that all government schools serve all the children in a community—as laudable as that might be, goes a long way to counter the myths about America’s private school community and who attends them.

Twenty-five percent of the schools in America are private schools. They educate approximately 11% of the public of America. 81% of those schools are religiously-affiliated. In a 2006 Census Report, it was demonstrated that of the families whose combined income was greater than $100,000, 80% of those families were in government schools while only 20% enrolled their children in private schools. Clearly, the government sector is the enclave for the rich (statistically). The only research that I’ve found that can somewhat correlate the relative wealth or poverty of so-called public versus private schools, is a 1995 report from NCES which compares student ethnicities, percentage of enrollments and extended care programs. If this data is accurate, then, clearly, the world of perception is tossed on its head.

We all do a serious disservice to private school educators when we paint them with a brush so broad as to whitewash away their dedication, commitment and passion to serve those who are less fortunate than most; the evidence just doesn’t support the premise. We do an even greater injustice to presume that just because an institution is called “public” that it serves the same. It’s time for intelligent choices for our kid’s education. We need to move way beyond what we think is going on or what we hope is going on or what we perceive to be going on; let’s look long and hard at the facts. It’s no longer a world of either/or (if it ever was meant to be), it’s a world of both/and. The question for us and our children is not where children are educated… it’s if they are educated.

So, who really serves the poor? Who really educates a cross section of the community? Who has that “public” interest at heart? If one considers the facts and not the myths, I believe you’ll find that private schools serve the public very well.

Now we need to take these facts to a higher court… the people in charge.


1 Comment »

  1. Hi, Robert:
    In my fifth year as Executive Director of WCEA as a separate 5013C. Now accrediting schools in nine western states, Guam and probably Samoa. Working on some national and international issues with private accrediting agencies. I so agree with your article. We do serve the public very well.
    Hope you are well.

    Comment by Br. William Carriere, FSC — March 4, 2010 @ 8:39 pm |Reply

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