One the consistently active commenters on this site has been Leo Linbeck III. Other commenters will have noticed that Leo has shown an interest in education issues. One of the things he’s involved with is an organization called Families Empowered. What it tries to do is help parents find something in the spectrum of school choices that fits their needs. The Families Empowered website says:
The most common educational options for families are their current zoned schools, followed by schools outside of their attendance zone (as a result of open-enrollment laws). Other options include private schools, charter schools, tax credits and deductions for schooling expenses and homeschooling. Families Empowered does not advocate for any type of schooling over another and recognizes that the best fit may be different for each family.
Helping parents find alternatives to suit their needs comes at a time when the public school system is under criticism for allegedly putting the interest of teacher’s unions above those of the students. A recent documentary movie, Waiting for “Superman” is perceived as criticizing the educational bureaucracy for putting itself ahead of its students. The film has divided audiences around political lines. Wikipedia says:
Of note is the number of conservative critics who have praised the film. Joe Morgenstern, writing for the Wall Street Journal, gave the movie a positive review saying, “when the future of public education is being debated with unprecedented intensity” the film “makes an invaluable addition to the debate.” …
Andrew O’Hehir of Salon.com gave a negative review of the movie, saying that while there’s “a great deal that’s appealing,” there’s also “as much in this movie that is downright baffling.” … In New York City, a group of local teachers protested one of the documentary’s showings, calling the film “complete nonsense.”
When the movie was screened at Columbia it was received by teachers in a substantially negative way. CBS News had reported that “In a letter to the press, Randi Weingarten, the American Teacher’s Union president, wrote the film portrays ‘teachers and teachers unions as the villains, and charter schools as heroes ready to save the day. The problem is that these caricatures are more fictional than factual.'”
The problem is that some of the facts, at least, suggest the public school system is really part of the problem. Something seems to be wrong with it. The question of whether this or that alternative is a separable issue. A Harvard Business School study quoted by Wikipedia found that New Orleans charter schools did better than the regular public. “When evaluating New Orleans’ schools against the 200 point index called the State Performance Index (SPI), 19 of the 20 highest performing non-selective schools were charter schools. Charter schools affiliated with charter management organizations such as KIPP tended to perform better than stand-alone schools. ”
So it seems at least possible to improve on the current system. However that may be, education has now come to the front and center of public policy debate.