In an America stuffed with charter schools, how would I make a pitch for a public school?
I don't mean how would I argue the ins and outs and dollars and cents of policy decisions. I don't mean how would I, for instance, try to talk the GOP out of turning ESEA into the Charter and Privatization Act of 2015. I'm not talking the big idea macro-scale argument about the place of modern charters in education.
How would I look a parent in the eye and make my pitch for them to choose public school over a charter? Well, I haven't polished this up into a slick video or fileted it down to billboard-ready copy yet, but here's the basic outline of what I would say.
Here's why you should send your child to your public school.
I will promise you that at the end of this year, at the end of next year, at the end of your child's educational career, even if that's thirteen years from now, this school system will still be here. You will never arrive at our doors and find them suddenly locked. You will never spend a single part of your year scrambling to find a new school to take your child in. As long as your child is school age, we will be here for her. You will never have to discover that we have decided to stop teaching your child because we can't make enough money doing it.
Our teaching staff has over a thousand years of collective teaching experience. You may think that those thousand years don't matter if your child is in a classroom with a second-year teacher, but they do, because that second-year teacher will be able to share in the other 998 years' worth of experience any time she needs to.
Our staff will also share the experience of teaching your child. Your child's classroom teacher will be able to consult with every other teacher who works with, or has ever worked with, your child. We do not routinely turn over large portions of our staff, nor do we depend on a stable of green young teachers.
We are committed to educating your child. Only in the most extraordinary circumstances will we expel him, and we will never "counsel him out." We will never require a minimum performance from him just to stay in our school.
Our public school is owned and operated by the voters and taxpayers of this community, your friends, neighbors, and co-workers. The charter school is not. This public school is overseen by an elected board of individuals who live here and who must answer to voters. The charter school is not. When you have a complaint, a concern, an issue that you want to direct attention to, the people who run this school must have regular public meetings at which you must be able to air your concerns. The charter is a business, run by people who don't ever have to let you into their board room.
How we spend your money.
We have no expenses that are not related to educating your child. We will never spend less on your child so that we can pay our CEO more. We will never cut programs for your child so that we can buy a nicer summer home or a bigger boat. And we buy in bulk, so we can buy more resources, more programs, more variety, more choices under one roof. Nobody here is trying to make money from your child's education; we are simply trying to provide the best education we can, as directed by the elected representatives of the voters and taxpayers of this district.
And if you don't believe us, you are free to examine our financial records any time you wish. We will never hide them from you.
The public school difference.
I know that you must consider the best interests of your child. I also know that not every public school system does a perfect job of delivering on each of these promises. But as you are considering that charter school alternative, ask the charter school folks these questions:
Will you promise me that this school will still be here the day my child graduates?
Will you promise me that my child will be taught by the same group of highly experienced teachers throughout my child's school career?
Will you allow me to see your financial statements any time I wish?
Will you commit to holding all meetings of your leaders and operators in public, with ample opportunity for members of the public to speak out?
Will you promise me that no matter what, you will never turn my child away from this school?
My suggestion to you? Find a place that will say yes to all of those, because without a foundation of stability, transparency, and commitment to your child, any other promises mean nothing. They are like getting a marriage proposal from a man who says, "I will be the greatest husband ever, but I do reserve the right to skip town any time that I feel like it." The charter school promise is not really a promise at all. If our pubic school promises seem smaller and less grand, it's because we know that whatever we promise, we'll have to stick around to deliver.
That would be my pitch. I know there are public schools that would have to step up their game to live up to that pitch, and they should start stepping today. I know that state and federal government have put obstacles in the way of living up to those promises, and that in some urban areas, much has been done to take the "public" out of public education. I know that the sales pitch would have to be tweaked by locality.
Most of all, I know that this sales pitch doesn't address the actual quality of education. But we have to start with the foundation, and the foundation (which we have previously taken for granted) is an institution dedicated to being a permanent provider, operated by and responsive to the community, and committed to meeting the needs of every student within its community. That foundation must be in place in order for a structure of quality education must be built.