One of the loudest voices in the current education reform debate–particularly on the Internet and social media– is the group Save Our Schools. Originally founded “to speak out against the attacks on public education and public school teachers,” the group has attracted a substantial following nationwide, including education celebrities such as Diane Ravitch and Deborah Meier. They are outspoken in their opposition to many educational reform proposals, including school choice, parent-trigger laws, and school and teacher accountability through testing.
I do not doubt the good intentions of the group and its members. But their stubborn adherence to a single means towards education–“traditional schools”–instead of a quality education in any form shows that the group’s stated desire to improve education for kids in this country is disingenuous.
As I’ve argued in this space before, the reason that tax dollars fund schools is that our society rightly decided that education is a public responsibility; schools and school systems were established because they were believed to be the best means to fulfill that responsibility. These “traditional” schools have been and continue to be successful in doing that for many kids.
But “many” kids is not all, as most prominently shown in our cities. It is only logical, then, to modify our means of fulfilling the public responsibility to educate. And that’s where Save Our Schools misses the mark. Traditional schools exist as a means towards the end of quality of education; they have no inherent societal value, and so are only worth “saving” if they are the most efficient and effective way to educate kids. But if we can educate better by tweaking the model–or even jettisoning it altogether–we have a responsibility to do so. Any group unwilling to do that is not truly committed to fulfilling the public responsibility of education.
It is instructive–and somewhat amusing– that on their website Save Our Schools claims to be committed to goals that are literally opposites:”preserv[ing] and transform[ing] public education.” It reads like a tacit admission of how a priority of saving schools is not actually aligned with improving education in general. The group would be well-served by thinking beyond educational tradition and anachronism and actually consider why we have schools.