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Public education vs.”choice”

By Dr. Mark Porterie
I am positive that by now most of us have been in some sort of conversation about the future of public education. There are some who are of the opinion that public education is failing our children. I do not think that public education is failing our children. In fact, public education has strengthened its curriculum over the years. Most of us who are productive citizens are products of public education. What has changed is the family structure and the value placed on education by students and parents alike.
I am not against school choice. Parents have to make the best choices for their child’s education, but I am against is the emphasis placed on dismantling public education. Charter schools and voucher systems for private schools are not the answers. These institutions pick and choose which students are allowed to attend.  Under a voucher system, these institutions will still choose the most affluent and brightest of our children.
In the public system, there is no picking and choosing. We teach any child who arrives at the schoolhouse door. I ask, “How will taking money from the public sector and moving it to the private sector be better for the students who remain?” I am not certain whether every student will be able to attend a charter school of choice or be able to receive a voucher, but every child will have to be educated. So where will our children who are economically deprived, have learning disabilities or have histories of discipline issues attend school? I suspect these students will be left behind in public institutions with even less funding to address greater needs.
I admit that public education needs retooling. We have to take stock of where we are and develop a plan of action to get to where we want to be.
The fault for failing to educate our children cannot be laid totally at the doorstep of public education. There is enough blame to be spread around. Parents who think their children are perfect and eliminate discipline from the home share the blame. Irresponsible fathers, absent from the home and their children’s lives, share the blame. Mothers who are not mature enough to raise children share the blame.  Those in our community with a sense of entitlement and who take advantage of the system share the blame. Our institutions of higher education, which allow the teaching profession to be a fallback career, graduating new teachers without proper knowledge and skills, share the blame. Parents who allow children to disrespect adults and themselves share the blame. Our government, which has mandated initiatives without adding funding to meet those mandates, shares the blame. Our state legislators who mandate unrealistic performance by limited-English-speaking students on state-mandated curriculum and standardized tests, without adequate resources, share the blame. So many variables have brought us to this place that no one person or entity can shoulder the blame.
Before embracing this seemingly quick fix of a voucher system, our community should rally around our public schools and insist students take advantage of everything that public education has to offer.  Parents should scream loudly and insist that all teachers deliver a quality instructional program in every classroom. Parents must appreciate the fact that education can make the difference in whether a child becomes a success or a detriment to society. Parents should take time out from fighting the school system and make efforts to do their part by sending to school students who are ready and willing to learn.
The public school system should be given the leeway to ensure that every teacher is teaching at a level where students can be successful. We must work together to ensure that when teachers take the time to contact parents, parent contact information is up to date. We must work together to remove employees who do not have the best interest of our children in mind, no matter who they are or where they are from. We must create an environment that is conducive to student learning.
Years ago, our parents and teachers did with much less in the way of finances and opportunities. However, parents had so much more of an appreciation for the education of their children. The stakes were higher and everyone was expected to go to school and show respect for teachers and learn. These are the basics that will reverse the downward trend of our public education system. The route of private school vouchers and private school choice will further reduce the already inadequate funding of public schools leaving our children behind.
We continue to say, “It takes a village to raise a child,” but we miss the necessary components of the village. The village has to be unified and speak with one voice. Members of the village have to have the same goals and objectives. The village has to work to accomplish the same things for all children and accept nothing less. When students begin to see that everyone in the village is on the same page and pride has returned to the both home and school, we will see a positive change. Then and only then will we be able to fight for public education and show proof of the quality of education that can once again be provided.

Mark Porterie is the superintendent of Port Arthur Independent School District.