Competing priorites for public education

Lieutenant Governor Dan Patrick held a press conference yesterday to lay out his priorities for the 85th Legislative Session. To no one’s surprise, those priorities were heavily centered on the privatization of public education and the defunding of neighborhood schools through passage of the latest voucher fad. Certainly, there are many priorities the state can and should address to improve the way we meet our constitutional obligation to make available a system of free public schools to the state’s roughly 6 million school-aged children, but vouchers are not one of them.

In addition to costing the state potentially billions of dollars, the consensus of the research finds that voucher programs don’t, in any uniform or significant way, increase educational outcomes for the students who use them. Additionally, despite voucher proponents’ claims to the contrary, the research does not find any competition-driven boost to the public system. The competitive effect that can be observed is a diversion of money from the classroom into marketing budgets.

Instead of continuing to focus on this perennial distraction on behalf of those few but influential interests who stand to gain from the privatization of our public schools, the lieutenant governor and the legislature should work on behalf of all students and parents to address the state’s real educational priories. To highlight a few, they could:

  • address the preparation, retention, and equitable distribution of classroom educators, the single most influential factor on a child’s educational attainment;
  • address the stress-inducing drill-and-kill environment in many of our struggling schools created by the state accountability system, which makes it virtually impossible for these children to learn according to neuroscience;
  • address the state’s continuing struggle to attain universal, full-day, and high-quality prekindergarten; and
  • address our flawed system of school finance; address its inadequate weights for low-socioeconomic groups, English language learners, and special education populations; address the layer upon layer of inefficient and inequitable “hold harmless” provisions.

The lieutenant governor cited 239,517 students attending persistently struggling schools, which he calls “failing,” in his speech yesterday. If the lieutenant governor truly wants to help these students and so many more, setting any one of these as a priority (if not all of them) is the more effective approach. After decades of research, it’s not a matter of not knowing what works and it’s not a matter of blindly throwing money at the deficiencies. We know what works. Other countries have taken the research we have conducted and put it into concrete, policy-driven practice with amazing results. It’s simply a matter of taking what we know works and making it a priority here at home.

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