A week of education news

On Tuesday of this week, the Star Tribune ran a story about how sizable proportions of public school teachers in St. Paul would not recommend their school to parents seeking a place for their child.  More precisely, more than a third of them described their “commitment” to their respective schools as either “weak” or “very weak.”  Interestingly and for whatever reason, a larger proportion, more than half, were negative if their school had preschool programs.

One could certainly argue that having upwards of two-thirds of teachers saying comparatively better things about their schools is pretty good news, especially since professionally trained people often feel distinctively chafed by large organizations regardless of how decent such institutions are.  I recall the frustration and anger, for example, expressed daily on a bulletin board by some employees at a fundamentally fair place where I once worked.  Still, it’s not encouraging to have so many teachers forewarning parents to keep their children away.

It’s an easy jump from these local findings to broader ones regarding the proportions of public school teachers across the country who send their own boys and girls to private schools.  Some of the best research I know on the topic, under the aegis of the Fordham Institute in Washington, is a dozen years old now, not that I think that such percentages havedecreased since 2004.  If anything, the opposite is likely true.

Back then, 11 percent of all American parents sent at least one of their kids to a private school.  Corresponding numbers for a sampling of public school teachers with boys and girls were a tad higher.

San Francisco: 34 percent

Baltimore: 35 percent

Chicago: 39 percent

Cincinnati: 41 percent

Philadelphia: 44 percent

Dramatic as these numbers are, one shouldn’t be surprised that public school teachers in many urban settings have doubts, often severe ones, about the quality and safety of the schools in which they work and go to large lengths – including paying private school tuitions – when it comes to their own children.

In similar dispirit, the Heritage Foundation, in 2007, found that 37 percent of members of the  U.S. House of Representatives with children of school age sent them to private schools, with 45 percent of Senators doing so.

Perhaps even more telling, 38 percent of House Hispanic Caucus members sent their children to private schools, with the figure 52 percent for members of the Congressional Black Caucus.  All this as the rate for the nation as a whole has hovered around 10-12 percent.

Also please keep in mind that persuading members of Congress, regardless of race or ethnicity, to keep afloat a voucher program for low-income kids in Washington has been like pulling molars – if and when gums budged in right ways at all.

In fairness, that 2004 study above showed the situation to be quite different in Minneapolis and St. Paul, where 18 percent of all parents in the two cities sent their children to private schools while only 16 percent of public school teachers did.  This was a remarkable departure from what was happening in Chicago, Philadelphia and other big cities, and spoke to how almost everything here used to be saner than elsewhere.

Yet without suggesting that urban life in Minnesota has fallen to the depths of other places (save for achievement gaps), I would have to guess that the proportion of teachers here who send their children to private schools has overtaken the rate other parents do.  The shortage of enthusiasm by St. Paul teachers about their own schools, plus the passage of a dozen deficient years of educational progress would seem to suggest so.  Though in fairness again, I know of no hard data on the matter.

A day after the story about St. Paul teachers, the Star Tribune and other papers had stories about how Minneapolis schools had missed most of their goals in reading and math, while St. Paul schools missed all of theirs.  The goals were the products of a 2013 Minnesota law with the heady name “The World’s Best Workforce.”  As reported in the Strib, in order to meet its 2020 goals, Minneapolis will need to improve its graduation rate by more than 31 percent.  Let’s just say this will be no modest challenge.  Suffice it  to say school districts in much of the rest of the state didn’t show especially well either.

A quick and obvious concluding question that incorporates all the above as well as the documented fact that many students, for whatever the reasons, do better academically and socially in private schools than in public schools:

When will we finally we get smart enough – brave enough when it comes to challenging the teachers union – to afford all Minnesota parents the freedom and wherewithal to send their children to schools that work best for them, be those schools public or private?