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- Ending the Epithet “Try-Hard” Once and for All in Classrooms - June 18, 2021
- From STEM, Let's Pivot to the BRANCHES of the Humanities - May 25, 2021
- Would Education Collapse If Teachers Stopped Working for Free? - May 20, 2021
- 10 Ways to Teach Like Ted Lasso: Part II - April 21, 2021
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- 10 Ways to Teach Like Ted Lasso: Part I - March 12, 2021
- The 7 Habits of Highly Effective Teachers: Habit 3 - First Things First - February 26, 2021
This article is published simultaneously with its partner article, "What Bothers Me About Public Schools"
Let me preface this article by saying that I am in no way, shape, or form opposed to private or charter schools. There’s a school for every child on this planet, and for some students, it’s not a public school. To this public teacher, that’s okay. We who teach do God’s work, and I’ll never generically bash any specific teacher or school. In fact, as a product of an entire life’s worth of public education and now serving as a public teacher, I might be on the outside looking in to non-public schools. Similarly, there are things that frustrate me – and others – about public schools. However, for the behemoth that is the public education system, there are still some things that frustrate me about the non-public schools here in the United States, and they came to fruition just a few weekends ago.
During this time, I was with 18 very excited 7th and 8th graders. We were sharing our first National History Day experience, the culmination of the time and effort into their projects, all of which was outside of class. This cadre of kids and their parents had invested a major amount of time into their exhibits, performances, and websites, and this was all done for no bearing on their grade in my history class. They did it because they enjoyed history - and that’s all. There was no time in class dedicated to the project, and no grade. Regardless, they all did splendidly, but in a side-by-side comparison to the other projects, the playing field almost seemed unfair. As we sat at the awards ceremony, the names of private schools rattled off with regularity; mentions of public schools were as meek as a mouse in March. My students and I left there somewhat frustrated and a burning desire to improve next year. Yet this led me to think of the reasons why private schools frustrate me as a public school teacher:
- Many private schools can tailor their own curriculum. As public teachers become proponents of the Common Core Curriculum (CCC), private schools and charter schools remain fairly unhinged on the new curriculum bureaucracy. The non-public schools who want to make an arts-, science-, tech-, or even history-centered curriculum can do so at their own peril. For example, if the history teacher wants to tell every student that the month of December is going to be used solely for each and every student’s History Day project, in some private schools (s)he can do just that. Public teachers, on the other hand, feel the belt tighten on their creative sense of teaching – the state continues to define that for us. Charter schools and Catholic schools, on the other hand, must more closely adhere to the CCC, but it’s not the obstreperousness that we feel. Nothing gets students going in an 8th grade language arts class like gerunds and infinitives, right Common Core?
- Private schools have less official accountability. I was just chatting today with a rather bright student I had last year. We chatted about the Pennsylvania System of School Assessment (PSSA), our standardized test that he was working on this week. Since he’s transferring to a private high school, where his score “doesn’t matter,” he answered every question in alternations of A-B-A-B-A, etc., and instead of answering the prompt in the writing section, said he wrote a song about how stupid the PSSA is. His score will reflect upon our school’s standing, and, beginning next year, students’ performance on the PSSA will be part of my annual evaluation. Where is this accountability in private schools? I can hear that song now in the background – it’s my job’s burial knell.
- Private schools get to recruit their own athletes. The young man mentioned in the previous reason is transferring to his private school because he’s a great athlete in his sport, and his private school will be covering most of his tuition.
- Private schools have the ability to select their own students. I’ve seen enough documentaries on charter school drafts and written enough recommendations for private school students to know that they get to use competition to their advantage. It breaks my heart to learn that some of these people bank an entire life on a draft or a lucky selection. Students (and their parents) want (them) to go to said private / charter school, and the demand always seems to be greater than the supply. Meanwhile, I get my class roster of 140 students at the beginning of the year, and I do no selection of deciding of worthiness. I teach every kid who comes through that door with the same vigor, whether they want to be there or not. Even though I feel I do a great job of teaching at a public school, my supply will always be larger than my demand.
- Private schools can deny expensive special-needs children. You’ll read about how private and charter schools operate on a smaller budget than public schools, but that’s because an incredible chunk of change is spent on the rapidly growing area of special education. The aides, time, smaller classrooms, and special accommodations become a large expense. Likewise, one of the fastest evolving areas of educational expense is autism support. In my 7 years of teaching, I still sadly have yet to meet one autistic student who has successfully enrolled at a private school.
- For private schools, money spent is seen as an investment, not a burden. I’d be rude to neglect that most (if not all) parents who pay for private school also pay public school taxes in addition to their tuition. That can add up to a large expense for a family, an expense which almost always ensures that private school students come from two-parent and/or two-income families. But the fact that private school parents pay out of their pocket for a more palatable word to tax – “tuition” – makes so many of them that much more involved in their child’s education. Yet when people hear the words “public school tax” and forget they’re helping pay for the education of America’s next generation.
- Charter schools use taxpayer money to advertise. On the other hand, charter schools that collect taxpayer money are often permitted to spend it however they see fit. So the taxpayer money that public schools use to fund their needs, like that growing special education budget, becomes part of an advertising budget for a cyber school’s billboards, commercials, and magazine ads. Frustration steams from my ears when I see them.
- Some private schools create a profit. It’s really difficult for me to read about schools who make money educating students. I feel like we do this for the public good, not for private profit. I find it can be a conflict of interest to answer to parents and investors / contributors. We are not in the customer service business, we are in the business of educational enrichment and academic promotion.
- Smaller schools, smaller class sizes, less bureaucracy. My class sizes continue to grow each year – in my 1st year teaching (2006), my smallest class was 21; last year, my smallest class was 32. When I first began teaching at my middle school in 2008, we had 850 students; now we have 1,010. In addition to more students to teach, it seems like there are more hoops to jump through, more standards to meet, more data to collect and analyze, and more district- and building-wide initiatives to meet. The Charlie Brown in me wants to “ARGH!” to the monotonous voice of the bureaucracy in public schools
- Non-public schools are able to change more rapidly. With smaller schools, less students, and more invested parents, school-wide reforms can be made more quickly. They can try the newest and latest educational ideas, such as flipping not just a classroom, but the entire school. As an involved teacher in the learning process, I’d love to have more say and direction in the course of my teaching. However, we’re moving an ocean liner here, not a speed boat - and that frustrates me about public schools in as much as non-public ones.
- Teachers in private schools are often non-union. One reason schools might say they’re able to change more rapidly is because most of them are non-union. As a member of our statewide union, this is a scary notion. The union has given teachers – both in their membership and not – so many benefits in our profession, such as a livable wage (we’re not making a killing here, but we’re doing okay), a pension, benefits, bargaining rights, and job security. Not all private and charter schools have these things.
- Teachers in private schools don’t have to be certified. Though increasingly becoming rare, this is a fundamental truth of private schools. They can hire whomever they want for any position at any level; they do not have to be teacher-trained or certified. They also don’t necessarily have to have child clearances. While a majority of private school teachers are certified and have child clearances, it’s not a guarantee. At public school, it’s 100% guaranteed.
- When given a level playing field, public schools and private schools perform equally. While many private schools have dominated the previous news and performance comparisons, the tables have turned - even favoring the performance of public school students in comparison to private school students. In Pennsylvania, all the data I’ve read comparing the average charter school to the average public school favors the latter.
Which leads us back to our conclusion, where my 18 students went 0-for-18 on the day, and many of our private school competitors lined their trophy case. Why is that? Is it because they had the flexibility in their schedule to dedicate class time to it? Is it because they’re experienced at entering competitions? Is it because they get to choose their students? Is it because the class sizes are smaller? Or that the parents waive the tuition bill in front of their children’s faces? We’ll just have to wait until next year to figure it out. In the meantime, I’m going to let that frustration drive my students and me to a better performance for next year.