There are no absolutes in education debate

04/06/2014 6:11 PM

04/06/2014 10:33 PM

Privatization of public schools. Learn the term. It’s an undercurrent mixing into many an education headline lately.

Two examples: Last week’s stalled sale of the shuttered Westport High School where Academie Lafayette, a charter school, hoped to open an International Baccalaureate high school. And the into-the-night arguments by the Kansas House as it debated a school funding formula during the weekend. Both touch on the evolution of K-12 education in America.

The school board’s vote on Westport stoked accusations that members who voted “no” did so out of a reluctance to see a charter school take over the space. The idea that charters are staking out too much turf in the district isn’t new, but it doesn’t hold the same clout it once did. The board has already allowed charters to use buildings closed in the district’s down-sizing. The old buildings are a natural for charters. It’s a good idea to reopen them for their original purpose. Any functioning school stabilizes neighborhoods for businesses and residents, including children who attend district schools.

The newly elected board ought to carefully revisit the muddled vote later this month.

On the Kansas side, legislators waged verbal warfare on public education. Some worked to get rid of the workplace fairness rule allowing teachers a hearing before they’re fired. Some argued that people who home-school or send their children to private schools should get a break on property taxes so they don’t have to support public education. How undemocratic.

Public education benefits entire communities. We all pay in. We all reap the rewards of a well-educated society.

If you ever hear anyone speak in absolute terms about education — all that is wrong with public education is the NEA, schools are chock-full of unqualified teachers, abolishing an elected school board would fix urban education — run! That’s ideology speaking, not knowledge.

Some charter schools are doing an outstanding job. Academie Lafayette falls into that count. But many, many charters are not faring well.

The Kansas City school district has some success stories. Some of the top and most sought-after schools in the city — Lincoln College Prep and Border Star Montessori School — are operated by the district. At the same time, some excellent charter schools continue to develop.

Both trends can co-exist. In fact, a strong, vibrant metro will depend on it.

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