Opinion
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What Does the Best and Wisest Parent Want?

By Diane Ravitch — October 27, 2009 2 min read

Dear Deborah,

Well, I certainly agree with you that all kids should have the quality of education now available only for students in the best schools. Given how much our nation spends on education, this should not be a pipe dream, but we know that it is not happening and has not happened in the past.

We both recall that John Dewey wrote that what the best and wisest parent wants for his own child is what the community should want for all its children. That’s a good starting point. What does the best and wisest parent want for his or her own child?

Certainly, that parent would want a school with small classes, which guarantees that her child would get personal attention. Class size is a pretty good indicator of what most people mean by quality. If you visit the most elite private schools, you can bet that they don’t have 32 students in a class. On the Web sites of such schools, one learns that classes are typically 12 to 15 students to a teacher. Such luxury is unheard of in most public schools, with the possible exception of schools in tony suburbs. Many of those who pronounce that class size doesn’t matter send their own children to schools with small classes.

Another indicator of quality is the presence of the arts. The best and wisest parent would not want his child to go to a school with no teachers of music, art, dance, or other arts. Yet we know that in most of our public schools today, the arts have been sacrificed to make more time for test-prepping.

One more point: That wise parent would demand schools that were physically attractive and well-maintained. He or she would not tolerate the neglect, deterioration, and obsolescence that we see so often in our schools. There are lots of other things that our mythical best-and-wisest parent would insist upon, but these three points, I think, are indisputable, and a good starting point.

Are these the priorities of President Obama’s Race to the Top Fund? Absolutely not! The president’s Department of Education will dispense nearly $5 billion, not to reduce class sizes, not to expand access to the arts, and not to improve the beauty and functionality of our public schools, but to incentivize the workforce with merit pay; to increase the privatization of struggling schools; and to compel teachers to teach to admittedly poor tests by tying teacher pay to students’ test scores.

Let’s get back to the new federal education agenda. Seeing how little has changed from Bush to Obama in education policy, I want my share of that $5 billion back. (That may become my weekly mantra!).

Diane

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The opinions expressed in Bridging Differences are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.

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