Education

Hot on the heels of my report this past week that online for-profit charter schools are taking more than $1.4 million out of public school districts in Athens County, Athens Board of Education member Bruce Nottke has gone statewide with the issue.

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In a letter sent to nearly every public school superintendent in Ohio, Nottke wrote, "I am writing to you in regards to my growing concerns about charter schools. My concerns rest not only with the loss of dollars to public schools, but more importantly with the poor quality of education our students receive from many of the charter schools currently operating in Ohio…

I strongly believe that while school administrators understand the dire situation, the typical Ohio taxpayer does not know about or does not fully understand how private businesses are operating charter schools for monetary gain while offering what is often a sub-par educational experience to our children.

I believe we, as representatives of the children of Ohio, must make a greater effort to inform the citizens in each of our communities about the issue of charter schools, how their existence drains money from the local public schools, and the fact that charter schools are often less effective in educating our children."

Nottke encouraged superintendents across Ohio to sign up for the Coaltion for Equity and Adequacy mailing list by emailing ohioeanda@sbcglobal.net.

"I strongly believe that if more taxpayers know the truth about charter schools in Ohio, they may be motivated to join together to change the conversation at the Statehouse as it relates to charter school legislation," he wrote.

I emailed Nottke to give him a hearty, "Cheers," for his effort. After all, knowledge is power.

In that vein, I can't recommend enough Dianne Ravitch's "Reign of Error: The Hoax of the Privatization Movement and the Danger to America's Public Schools."

I know I've beaten this drum for some time, but the data-driven book offers the most comprehensive look at the realities of public education in America and the consequences of the privatization movement hidden in the Trojan horse of "education reform."

Ravitch recently appeared on Bill Moyers to discuss her book and the situation with education in America. It's well worth taking the time to watch.

The upshot is that the biggest challenge American schools face is the achievement gap created by poverty and the best way to address that is to go back to best practices: Prioritizing equitable and comprehensive education funding, offering early childhood education and presenting a well-rounded curriculum that includes arts, music, and extracurricular opportunities.

Gutting our public school systems in favor of private profiteering and attacking our teachers will not solve the achievement gap caused by poverty. As with everything else, the issue demands a holistic approach.

I agree with Ravitch that there is a role for charter schools, and it is their original role: To catch the students who fall through the cracks and to supplement public education by offering opportunity where there otherwise might be none.

But the role of charters is not to compete with public school districts and to undermine them by sucking away revenue in the interests of private enterprise.

Our public schools must remain among our most cherished institutions, driving democratic opportunity in our republic and encouraging civic duty, innovation and the lifelong pursuit of knowledge.

More and more, public districts are innovating by creating online coursework of their own and emphasizing STEM and STEAM technical training to students who are likely not college-bound. Those efforts need our support as practical solutions to real-world challenges.

As regular visitors to these rambling shores of Blogistan know, I'm a bit of an admirer of the political mind of James Madison, a tireless advocate for public education. So let me turn to him once more:

"A popular Government, without popular information, or the means of acquiring it, is but a Prologue to a Farce or a Tragedy; or, perhaps both. Knowledge will forever govern ignorance: And a people who mean to be their own Governors, must arm themselves with the power which knowledge gives… Learned Institutions ought to be favorite objects with every free people. They throw that light over the public mind which is the best security against crafty & dangerous encroachments on the public liberty."

Find Senior Writer David DeWitt on Facebook and Follow on Twitter @TheRevDeWitt.

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