Education Opinion

People Still Want Public Schools

By Walt Gardner — November 18, 2016 2 min read
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The media took it on the chin for failing to read the mind of the people about Donald Trump. Given far less attention, however, were the results regarding public schools. Therein lies an important lesson.

Despite the views expressed on the opinion pages of almost all major newspapers that public schools are hopelessly failing (“How Trump can make American schools great again,” New York Post, Nov. 13), voters in Massachusetts and Georgia became the latest to demonstrate that they still have not lost faith. In doing so, they brought to 31 the number of times voters from coast to coast since 1966 have rejected attempts to undermine support for traditional public schools.

Question 2 in Massachusetts, which proposed the addition of 12 charter schools every year or larger enrollments at existing charters each year, was overwhelmingly defeated 62.1 percent to 37.9 percent. The outcome was particularly telling because outsiders spent more than $34 million to pass the issue, even though Massachusetts’s charter schools rank among the best in the nation. The money exceeded the amount raised for any other ballot question in the state’s history.

Amendment 1 in Georgia would have allowed the governor to seize control of 127 persistently low-scoring school districts enrolling almost 68,000 students and place them in an Opportunity School District consisting of charter schools. But voters handily turned down the proposal by a vote of 61 to 39 percent. They did so despite the cheating scandal in Atlanta that resulted in eight of the 10 educators convicted of racketeering being sentenced to prison terms of up to seven years in 2015.

In a further rebuke to the media’s coverage, voters in Washington overwhelmingly reelected the three state Supreme Court justices who had ruled in Sept. 2015 that charter schools are not “common schools” as defined by the state Constitution and therefore cannot be funded by common school funds. Voters had voted three times before against charter schools: twice on a statewide ballot in 1996 and in 2000, and once in 2004 on a referendum. In the wake of the ruling, the Washington Charter Association said it had secured $14 million in private funds to keep charter schools open.

Just as the media are now apologizing for their failure to correctly read the minds of the people toward Donald Trump, they need to do the same for their failure to accurately report and comment about traditional public schools. They persist in assuming that the growing wait lists for entrance into charter schools constitute convincing evidence that traditional public schools have no future.

But when given the opportunity to radically overhaul these schools, voters have consistently said no. In fact, the most recent Phi Delta Kappa/Gallup poll found that 67 percent of public school parents gave their own children’s current school an “A” or “B.” Evidently, their direct experience of schooling fosters a quite different attitude than the one depicted by the media’s loud claims of abject nationwide failure.

Whether they will ever present a more balanced approach is unlikely in light of the massive funding from a small group of philanthropists to mold public opinion against traditional public schools.

The opinions expressed in Walt Gardner’s Reality Check 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.