Back to School

We Americans are suckers for bumper sticker solutions to complicated problems. When it comes to education, those who don’t want to deal with the thorny issues of public education reform insist that we can sidestep contentious decisions about curriculum, resources and equity, and just give parents “choices,” by which they mean voucher programs or charter schools.

So how’s that been working out?

In Colorado, where the state’s Supreme Court recently struck down a Denver charter school “initiative,” the Denver Post reported that

the district created a make-believe charter school called the Choice Scholarship Charter School that would collect the state per-pupil funds. A portion of that $6,100 per student would be sent to the student’s chosen school in the form of a check to the parent, who would use it for tuition.

It’s not enough that the virtual charter school had no buildings, employed no teachers and had no curriculum. Its students never attended a day of class. The school’s existence was to collect money for private schools.

Sixteen of the 23 private schools under the program’s 2011 pilot phase were religious in character, and 93 percent of the 271 scholarship recipients in 2011 enrolled in a religious school. Fourteen of those schools were outside of the district’s boundaries.

The Institute for Policy Studies recently compiled a report detailing current research on charters, and concluded that “While there’s little difference in the overall performance of charter schools and public schools, charters are riddled with fraud and identified with a lack of transparency that leads to more fraud.”

The problems go well beyond outright scams, however. In Tampa, the state Board of Education has voted to include a new requirement in the charter application process ­­­—  school hopefuls must now disclose which charter groups and companies they have been affiliated with in the last five years. As a member of the  Board explained, although some charter schools thrive, others have experienced recurring problems and closed.

Among them is Newpoint Tampa, which closed in 2013 after declining enrollment and financial problems. School district officials said the school’s board meetings were not being held in public or in an appropriate manner…

Earlier this year, two Newpoint charter schools in Pensacola that were run by the same management company operating the Tampa school — Newpoint Education Partners — were shut down after allegations of grade-tampering and contractual violations, the Pensacola News Journal reported.

Because of stories like these, charter school experts say placing extra scrutiny on operators is a must. The goal is to prevent those who have operated schools experiencing serious problems from opening more.

Oversight, obviously, is critical. But we’re talking about a lot of money, and political clout can counter accountability measures. In Ohio, lobbyists succeeding in delaying passage of a charter school reform measure that had broad bipartisan support. The Columbus Dispatch reported on derailment of a bill to implement significant charter-school reforms after charters had been sharply criticized both inside and outside the state.

Sources told the Dispatch that lobbyists were very active behind the scenes, especially the Batchelder Group,representing the White Hat group, a major for-profit charter-school operator run by David Brennan, an important GOP contributor.

Similar stories from other states are plentiful.

The moral of this story is not that charter schools are bad. Some are, many aren’t. Just like traditional public schools.

The moral of this story is: there aren’t easy answers or magic bullets–in education or any other policy domain. Bumper sticker solutions to complex problems often create more complex problems.

The performance of any school depends upon a large number of factors, none of which have much to do with whether the school is a charter or a traditional public school. If we really want to improve American education, we can’t avoid the hard work of defining desirable outcomes, identifying the qualities that define a good teacher, figuring out how to balance accountability with the school-level autonomy that will allow professionals to do their jobs, and ameliorating the effects of poverty that have been shown to impede learning.

The real “choice” is between fixing or abandoning our public schools.


  1. “The real choice is between fixing or abandoning our public schools.”

    Great idea, but how it is carried out is one that educators should have a say. Too often “politicky” type people want to apply their fix based on the fact that they, as some kind of self declared leader, know what will “fix” education.

    I have been working with kids in public schools for 180+ days a year, for 25+ years. I think I know a thing or two about how kids learn and how a teachers and administrators and parents can provide the best learning environment. And I can tell you that those that promote “reform” are doing everything they can to destroy public education.

    Charter schools don’t work – they are nothing more than narrowly focused schools that don’t answer to anyone except their corporate backers. Vouchers place students in a situation where they must comply with the ideology of an organization that controls the curriculum. And virtual schools or online academies are just scams that waste the learning time and the taxpayers money. These “choices” are false – the schools choose the students and when they don’t perform, don’t comply, take a little too much effort to produce the revenue the so-called school needs to stay profitable, the school “chooses” to send the student back to the public school.

    True reform would be to invest time and money in the local schools; include educators, parents and the community in decision making about their schools; and bring back real local school boards, ones that are not elected with huge sums of money from out of state interests that put political ideologues on the board to sell off the school system to highest bidder.

    That is my take on this, but what do I know? I’m a teacher.

  2. So sad–especially because the future of our country depends on OUR ability to educate our children to the best of THEIR abilities. I am equally saddened by the news that people are leaving–or not even entering–the teaching profession, which I loved and still love.

  3. Teresa, we “invest” a ton in K-12 schools. 50% of our state and local taxes goes to K-12 education. When I did the research a number of years ago, the DOE admitted that education spending had increased more than 50% above the inflation rate for several decades. Maybe that spending increase has declined some. But certainly the amount we spend on education has not declined.

    The problem is that so many of those tax dollars are wasted. Look at employment by school districts today versus 30 years ago. So many more non-teaching administrators are employed at very hefty salaries. The amount spending on facilities has also soared. In Pike Township we have a program to rip down elementary schools that are only a few decades old to build new buildings. Indiana is one of the leading states in terms of school construction, chiefly because of the influence of certain players over school boards.

  4. You’re certainly right about the Pike Township Board of Education, Paul. A new Eastbrook Elementary had to be built several years ago because the old building, the school board told us, was unsafe for students to use. Guess what – that same building is still in use today. How many of the old buildings that were replaced became “unsafe” due to maintenance that was not done?

  5. Paul, would you supply statistics to the claims you make in the second paragraph? Rosemary, is not the first building used for administrative offices? To both of you, is there just one example of “ripping down” buildings? Give us facts, please.

  6. Sheila correctly pointed out that a bumper sticker solution does not address problems, and that charter schools are not necessarily a change in policy or methodology. In some cases, that happens, but many, if not most, charters only carry on with failed approaches, fool parents into believing that they are somehow different. (Charters and private schools are open season for scammers and cons.) If you want to talk about waste, now there is where we can discuss waste. If one wants to address waste and administration-heavy situations (which may be a myth in most schools) that needs to be addressed. You don’t say, “There is a problem with waste and too many administrators, so we will go to charters, where there is certainty that there will be waste and inept administration with very little accountability.”

  7. I agree with the folks who question the building expenses. When I started school in 1954, our entire school system was in one 1920 Era 3 story building. As the kids got older, they moved further upstairs. High School was the third floor. Solid surface floors, NO AC, Radiators etc. THIS was the American experiment in action. The richest kid in town sat next to the poorest kid in town. No special treatment. It was not about the building, it was about learning. The building boom over the last 60 years was required (by population growth)and spectacular BUT it has gone over the top there too. I have homes of equal value in IN and WI. In IN I pay 1,500 / Year on Property Tax. In WI I pay 4,500 in property tax. WI has good schools that educate kids far better than IN. But it costs more money. They also take care of the snow and roads but that is another story. Since I have NEVER had a kid in ANY school, that is a large payment but our society should be educating the next generation in PUBLIC schools. (I also donate another $2,000 to the WI School for Gay Student Group activities since the school will NOT do the job. You see, no Ball, No Money)

  8. “we can sidestep contentious decisions about curriculum, resources and equity, and just give parents “choices,” by which they mean voucher programs or charter schools.

    So how’s that been working out?”

    If it gets one child away from public-school indoctrination and forced emasculation, it’s a success.

    If teachers can be employed who have not been forced to waste their college years getting a worthless “education” degree, it’s a success.

    If we can hammer away ay the teachers’ union, it’s a success.

    “The real “choice” is between fixing or abandoning our public schools.”

    False dichotomy. We should start by fixing teachers to make the schools more attractive to education customers. Get teachers from real majors, and get teachers back to teaching real subjects instead of social indoctrination.

  9. Different majors = another bumper sticker solution
    Teach real subjects instead of social indoctrination = has no idea what goes on in schools. This is not North Korea.

  10. Charters and Vouchers make two groups happy the Bible Thumpers who can teach Religion and fund it with Public Tax Dollars and the Privatization Parasites, who also benefit from Public Tax Dollars.

  11. Some people think that it’s necessary to educate future generations others think that future generations should know no more than what they do. In other words the mission of education is to spread ignorance and limit every generation to no better educated than their predecessors.

    Some people are reflexive in their belief that anything done by, owned by, run by government is inherently wasteful. Things done by, owned by, run by people sworn to make more money regardless of the cost to others are waste free. I would love someday for someone to explain the rational behind that. My experience is that the less one knows about any institution the more qualified they are to find “waste”. This has caused the demise of many businesses as they’ve hired “consultants” who know nothing about customers, products, markets, workers, or technology but see waste everywhere.

    The selling off of America is a thinly disguised conspiracy to sell the future of everyone to enrich today’s 1%.

  12. I have to agree with one point in Gopper’s post. I believe that most of the teachers, certainly from middle school onward, need to have their degree in the one subject they are to teach. For high school math, science, history and english teachers their degrees need to be masters.

  13. Humanity did not evolve to the current state of dysfunction. While physical and cultural evolution tries random adaptations natural selection is pretty efficient at rewarding what works and diminishing what does not.

    What we are in the grips of is not natural at all but conspiratorial. The planned and purposeful imposition of what’s beneficial for some on others.

    The evolution question is our ability to resist and reject it.

  14. Let’s call it what it is. The Know Nothing Party can sabotage the education of future voters while stealing the taxpayer dollars intended for education. In the words of the sort of frat boys who lobby and vote for such things, “It’s a %$#@ing slam dunk, dude!”

  15. I think I’ve discover a real fear that explains a great deal. The fear of – Forced Emasculation.

    I wasn’t aware of this forums capacity to address it. Perhaps another thread, another time.

  16. Theresa, let the Master’s be entirely from the real campus and not at all from the school of education. If education gets its hands into the program, the degree is worthless.

    A possible problem with your plan is that good graduate schools in real disciplines do not accept M.A. candidates.

  17. Some of the comments here about the current state of Education (as in Public) are mind numbingly ignorant of the facts. There is no social indoctrination in public schools, no political agenda and certainly no teachers go into the profession with the goal of becoming rich. For those of you who would like to know what “really” goes on in Education, I would suggest volunteering for a United Way program called Read Up. It is a wonderful way to get to know students, teachers and the school of your choice and only takes 30 minutes a week to make a huge difference in the life of a young person struggling to read. Here is a link: You will feel good, the kid learns and you might come away with an appreciation and understanding of the challenges we (educators) face.

  18. Goober er Gopper must have one hell of an education. I have seldom see such hate for public education

  19. Indiana has lowered teacher licensure requirements to permit those who can pass a subject-matter test and 5 weeks of ‘teacher training’ to teach – even though they have no experience and virtually no training in managing students. Most of these woefully unprepared ‘teachers’ quit teaching forever after 1-2 years in a classroom.

    If a child is hungry, ill, abused, emotionally distraught, homeless, mentally or physically handicapped, hears no English at home, has mostly absentee parents, or has parents with limited education or knowledge of how to stimulate their own children’s intellectual growth, re-sorting these children into another school that doesn’t address these threshold problems yields no better results. Neither will blaming the teacher.

    It’s difficult for the 5-6 hours a child spends with a teacher to overcome the other 18 hours of a child’s day. That’s why studies show that factors OUTSIDE of school account for 60% of a child’s achievement. While a teacher is the single most important factor in a child’s achievement WITHIN a school, those same studies reveal the teacher accounts for 10-15% of a child’s achievement.

    A teacher can’t go home with all of her students or spend hours outside of school to help parents access social and other services to provide a better home environment.

    As someone else has said, if we think education is expensive, try ignorance.

  20. Please listen carefully and take seriously the comments made above by Teresa Kendall. She has the chops and she has proven herself to possess two essential things necessary for teachers: a love of children, and a love of learning. 25 years is too long to stay if you lack either of these qualities. Take her seriously and try volunteering.

    Education partly suffers from a ‘false expertise’ syndrome – we have all been to school and therefore ought to be able to speak with strength and intelligence about it, yes – NO. One of the most troubling problems for me is that people who have evidently had truly bad experiences themselves want to throw out the whole – they do not care to engage in any critical thinking about what went wrong for them and what might fix this for others, except: demonizng public education, seeing it as an evil monopoly, believing choice will solve every issue and that privatization is the only useful path. AND, claiming that throwing money at the problem will not help.

    Costs of everything have gone up, and the reason, I believe, that it is possible to identify (again, I believe, mostly falsely) that money in public education is wasted is based on an inaccurate and purposefully cherry-picking of the negative analysis of costs not to mention conflating acccountibility, perceived lack of it, test scores, and wasted dollars. What a humbug – as I have read here and in other places, tell a lie often enough and people come to accept that it is true, despite evidence to the contrary. A sad but potentially useful comparison may be to passenger trains – by most reports, badly run and financed in the States, so badly that ridership continuously falls off and what do you know – no one cares about trains – SEE!

    Please don’t confuse the fact that one can ALWAYS find a problem in financial records – there is always a better way to accomplish some things – with the idea that this means that all the books and costs are therefore dishonest wastefulness. Despite current realities, the fact that one can always find a jerk in public office does not mean that all people serving the public are jerks, even if it is oh so tempting to conclude that this is true.

    Let’s not forget that public education is a public good. Who, you haters of public education, you supporters of second, or even fifth class education for the poor, is going to care for you if you reach your dotage, or provide caring attention if you are ill, or perform any of the duties that help to make our world a better place for all of us? You are nuts indeed if you feel safe in your gated communities – what happens when you drive out to search for milk or other daily necessities?

    One of the most heartening aspects of the publicly elected local school board system – in my opinion a very good system – comes about when a single issue parent seeks election on that single issue and once on the board, comes quickly to realize that the job is to advocate for all students and proceeds to work together with other trustees to do just that. These people deserve our support and approbation.

    The haters do not want to know about the frightening discrepancies between schools in white, upper class neighborhoods and those in poverty stricken and rural areas inhabited mostly by people of colour. Any educational disadvantage, no matter whose future it may ruin, is a strike against your country (or mine) and against any sort of progress.

    There is plenty written about school buildings with no doors on washroom stalls, and other horrifying, demeaning physical realities children and their teachers must suffer to attend school. Then there are the legions of tired, disrespected teachers who pour their hearts out trying to help. And, we should all by now be aware of the deleterious effects of poverty on the mental and physical well-being of anyone caught in its clutches.

    My cynical self tends to think of these horrifying legions of failing, hopeless, tragic halls of education as the evidence of the latest effort by some (nasty sorts indeed) who are trying and, sadly, succeeding more than somewhat, in undoing the positive effects of Brown vs the Board.

    Everyone, even the apparently dumb clucks, deserve better than this. Pay attention, please, and get informed and vote (and teach your children to vote).

    End of rant, for now…

  21. “Indiana has lowered teacher licensure requirements to permit those who can pass a subject-matter test and 5 weeks of ‘teacher training’ to teach”

    You know full well that this improves the stock of teachers, although the five weeks of so-called “teacher training” might be a poison pill to keep good candidates from even bothering with the fuss. Further, a graduate from a real discipline is more qualified to teach the entire range of classes than an education major, so a “subject test” merely keeps the good graduates from being the most effective.

    “Most of these woefully unprepared ‘teachers’ quit teaching forever after 1-2 years in a classroom. ”

    As with many jobs, the bad force out the good. Teacher politics are vicious.

    “If a child is hungry, ill, abused, emotionally distraught, homeless, mentally or physically handicapped, hears no English at home, has mostly absentee parents, or has parents with limited education or knowledge of how to stimulate their own children’s intellectual growth, re-sorting these children into another school that doesn’t address these threshold problems yields no better results. Neither will blaming the teacher. ”

    Such students don’t belong in the same classroom as students who are better prepared. The classroom isn’t social work. Don’t put such children in a classroom where they’re destined for failure. There’s nothing wrong with remedial classes.

    “re-sorting these children into another school that doesn’t address these threshold problems yields no better results.”

    Oh, but it does. Only a small percentage will ever be exceptional. Grouping the gifted into their own classes, in their own buildings, keeps the excellent from being dragged down by the disinterested, disruptive or incapable.

    “It’s difficult for the 5-6 hours a child spends with a teacher to overcome the other 18 hours of a child’s day. That’s why studies show that factors OUTSIDE of school account for 60% of a child’s achievement.”

    FINALLY, YOU’RE HONEST. Knowing this, quit claiming that more money for schools is going to improve a darn thing.

    “A teacher can’t go home with all of her students or spend hours outside of school to help parents access social and other services to provide a better home environment. ”

    So quit claiming that more money for schools is going to produce smarter children. Letting your percentages be correct, arguendo, it follows that we’d be better off making direct transfer payments to impoverished households.

    We need subsequent generations of Americans to be intelligent and capable, but we’re going about it the wrong way. We keep pumping continuously increasing funds into “education,” and the kids keep performing worse.

    Your way isn’t working and will never work. My way will have some children gain an education.

    “As someone else has said, if we think education is expensive, try ignorance.”

    Our disagreement is that many do not believe that current models of school lead to appreciable education.

    “Knowledge” is the antonym of “ignorance,” by the way. Knowledge is variously acquired.

  22. I’ve always considered that what schools achieve with kids is incredible, a minor miracle. If kids attend school six hours a day for 180 days, that’s 12% of their time. We need to make every second of those hours count for good, which means that we invest even more of our resources and creativity into children. After all, that is where the future lies, and if we fill them with anti-intellectual stuff and the notion that education is equal to job training, that won’t be in the interest of the common good, and it won’t save the republic.

    For that reason, it’s always remarkable to me when I hear politicians and others brag that 50% of the State’s budget is education, as if it’s enough or really too much, so we need to figure out ways to not only reduce education spending, but reduce the meaning of what it means to be educated. Like education is “nothing but” job training for Wendy’s, not learning to think and appreciate what it means to be human. When that kind of thinking is what we hear from our politicians (mistakenly referred to as “leaders”), that makes my hair stand on end. If people can’t aspire and embrace the struggle and challenge to make the common good great, what will become of our children’s children?

  23. Gopper it is sad that you have developed such a negative position about Education, but I am sure you were the beneficiary of an educational system that was established for the good of the public, not just a privileged few. Nancy Pappas knows of what she speaks, and all of her points are valid.

    Education is an expensive undertaking, but one that is necessary if we are to have a functioning society. All that most educators are asking for is the money that was taken from our budget be returned. Return the 300 million Mitch took during his time in office. Return the voucher money that is being used to build new church steeples and auditoriums for religious schools.

    Want to get so-called “better teachers?” Give teachers more money. The salary of a first year teacher does not make sense to someone coming out of college who has student loans to pay. The salary of a mid-career teacher qualifies them for food stamps. The salary of a late career teacher is about half of what other professionals with the same amount of education make.

    Gopper, you and anyone who has such a negative view of public (or private) education need to put some time in a school before you make the ridiculous claims about teacher pay, training and all of the other factless statements made. IPS has a volunteer program,, as well as Carmel Clay schools,

  24. Along with the positive effects of Brown v. Board of Education, and its implementation, have been the negative effects of poor discipline and violence. A substantial portion of current school expenditures are those for increased security – much of which is for protection against the disruptive and violent students who are not suspended or expelled because of the required policies of administering discipline equally among the races, regardless of the behavior exhibited. Holder’s efforts to punish school districts for disrupting the attendance of individual students regardless of their conduct has further impaired the safety of students. I applaud parents who look for an alternative setting for their children’s education.

  25. Wayne, as I stated before, the old Eastbrook Elementary building at 7839 New Augusta Road (near the intersection of Georgetown and 79th) was deemed too dangerous for students to continue using. A new Eastbrook Elementary building was built and students, faculty and staff moved into it. Since then, numerous other Pike Township elementary schools have moved into the old Eastbrook building while their current building was being demolished and the new building was built. The schools that were using the old Eastbrook building were Central, Deer Run, Guion Creek, College Park, and the latest, Eagle Creek. No former school is in use as the administration building; a new building was constructed for that sole purpose some time ago. If you don’t believe what I’m saying, you can call the Superintendent, Dr. Nathaniel Jones (317-293-0393) to verify. Be prepared to leave a message because no one in the administration building, including the adminstrative assistants, ever answers the phone.

  26. Dear Gopper–If throwing money at education didn’t change anything, then why are your heroes, the Koch brothers, throwing millions at universities in exchange for preaching their propaganda? Don’t tell me you disagree with your masters.

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