Education Opinion

Public or Private?

By Jessica Shyu — November 10, 2008 2 min read
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The everlasting question: Public or private?

As The Washington Post inevitably reports about the Obamas’ personal transition to my hometown, the focus has been on the children’s schools. Today’s article finally called out the elephant in the room: “Like many parents moving their children to Washington, Barack and Michelle Obama will be told to avoid D.C. public schools. Is that good advice?”

Jay Mathews suggests not ruling out public schools and points out that not all of our public schools are so notoriously poor performing. In fact, Thomson Elementary has a rising program and supportive staff and is right around the corner from the White House. (Why Thomson Elementary, I wonder? In speaking to my colleagues here who have a focus on elementary schools in the district, there are a number of higher performing public schools in the region.)

But, as all articles on the president-elect’s personal transition to DC will conclude, the decision is their private and personal choice, and the public has absolutely no right to judge on whether their daughters will attend an elite private school or local public school where 69% of the student body comes from low-income families. True story.

The real question that this article begs is: If you had the means and the access, would you send your children to a public or private school?

As an educator and as a staunch advocate for closing the dire achievement gap in our nation’s public schools, it’s been a question I’ve toyed with over the years. I don’t believe in using children as a pawn in making social statements and my opinions on this issues have reflected that (and any hypocrisy I’ve dealt with) over the years. Even in the 20 minutes I’ve spent writing this, I’ve flip-flopped my mind over what I’d do if I had children. Right this second, I’m still unsure, but what I do believe in is the bottom line that we need to focus our energy on closing the achievement gap not by changing the backgrounds of the families we serve, but by fixing what we’re doing in education as adults. All kids and their families must achieve on an absolute scale, whether they’re from low-income communities or not. Bring it.

But as I work closer with administrators, teachers and students in our lowest performing districts in the country including Washington DC, I am more and more encouraged by what I see and, honestly, by everything we do from the time we wake up at the crack of dawn everyday until we snap the laptop closed before midnight. There is a lot wrong in DC schools and a lot of people doing things not in the best interest of children. But there are so many amazing people working toward great things for kids. I am years away from having children, let alone children who are school age. With enough hard work and change, hopefully my professional goals will allow my personal priorities to be aligned.

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