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The Public School Dilemma January 5, 2009

Posted by Kate Ryan in Barack Obama, Education, popular culture.
Tags: , , , , ,
First Daughters Sasha and Malia Obama

First Daughters Sasha and Malia Obama

Sasha and Malia Obama started their first day of school at Sidwell Friends,a private Quaker school in Washington, DC.  Chelsea Clinton attended Sidwell Friends, as did Richard Nixon’s daughters.  Like many tonier private schools, Sidwell sits on a large campus where the Secret Service presence would be much less intrusive than in an urban school in the District.  Security concerns aside, however, the Obamas have made the choice that most more affluent parents make when living in an area with failing public schools.  The problem is as Democrats, support for public schooling is one of the cornerstones of public policy.  A Democrat sending his or her child to a private school (especially one that costs over $28 K per child) risks appearing hypocritical, at best.

By all accounts, the DC public schools are a disaster, even when comparing them to other large urban school districts.  For the past eighteen months, under Chancellor Michelle Rhee,  the DC schools have embarked upon an ambitious reform program that is beginning to show small results.  Elementary reading and math proficiency scores have risen 8% and 11%, respectively.  It remains to be seen if the momentum for improvement can be maintained.  Most urban school reform programs fizzle out after initial successes because the underlying core problems are persistent – poverty, transience, and an inadequate funding base.  All these problems feed into each other; in an urban district with neighborhood schools, an impoverished population tends to move around a lot – so consistency in the child’s education is compromised.  Since most schools are funded through property taxes, a poor transient tax base can not provide sufficient operating cash, so the schools are compromised.  The less education a person has, the more likely he is to remain poor,  and the cycle repeats.

I sympathize with the Obamas.  We live in an urban school district and our daughter has been attending private Catholic schools since the first grade.  I believe that free public education is important and I wish we could have counted on it all these years.  In the final analysis, however, you have to do what’s best for your children and if you can afford private school – you make that choice.



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